The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus/Chapter II
Great houses, says a historian, win and lose undying fame in less than a century : they shoot, bud, bloom, bear fruit ; from obscurity they rise to dominate their age, indelibly to write their names in history, and after a hundred years give place to others, who in turn take the stage, while they descend into the crowd and live on insignificant, retired, unknown. This is true, in some periods, but not of the Imperial houses of Rome. Their flight across the stage was meteoric in its rapidity. A generation saw the rise and total extinction of many of those families who aspired to the Roman Purple, particularly the revived house of Antonine.
On the borders of the Orontes, in that part of Syria which is known as Phoenicia, lies a small, disagreeable, and melancholy-looking town, which to-day bears the name of Homs, or Hems. It is a construction of yellow and black stones mixed with mud and broken straw, and is the rendezvous of Curds, Bedouins, and Turkomans, a straggling village, where dirt, squalor, and misery proclaim the absence of trade, roads, or contact with an outside world. A short distance away are the ruins of an ancient castle, built by the Crusaders to dominate the route to Antioch. Here alone is there a trace of fruitfulness, a sort of oasis of green gardens, extending along the river-bank towards what was once the graceful and beautiful capital of the Elagabal monarchy, the famous city of Emesa — celebrated under the independent High-Priest Kings of the family of Sohemais for the splendour of its palaces and the magnificence of its temple, and because it was the headquarters of the worship of the God of Gods, Elah-Gebal, or Baal, which is the name more familiar to Christian ears. For us the chief interest in this wretched village lies in the fact that it is the home of that race of Syrian Emperors who ruled Rome during the period of her greatest renown and prosperity — a period when the splendour of the Purple reached its apogee. Rome had been watching a crescendo that had mounted with the ages ; it culminated in the revived Antonine house ; but the tension had been too great, something snapped, and there was nothing left. So it had been with Emesa ; her splendours endured sorrowfully until the twelfth century, and then were engulfed, as her house had long since been, in a great earthquake which devastated that part of Syria, along with lesser-known parts of the earth's surface.
Little is known of the early history of the hereditary High- Priest Kings of Emesa. Strabo tells us that, like the neighbouring sovereigns of Jerusalem, their origin was sacerdotal, to which functions they had attached the title and jurisdiction of secular rulers on the breaking-up of the Seleucid monarchy.
The most famous princes of the Emesan dynasty of High-Priest Kings were Samsigeramus and his son Iamblichus, the friend of Cicero. In the war between Octavius and Antony this prince found he had taken up arms on the wrong side, and was killed by Antony for fear of treachery. In the year 20 B.C. Augustus re-established the kingdom of Emesa in favour of the son of Iamblichus, which kingdom certainly continued until the time of Vespasian, according to Froelich, and probably until Antoninus Pius, during whose reign we have the first known Imperial coins of Emesa (Eckhel). The kingdom was small, and the wealth, except the revenue which came as religious offerings, insignificant — facts which undoubtedly decided the rulers of the time to yield gracefully before the advancing arms of the universal Emperor, who, in return, left the High-Priest Kings a certain amount of political as well as their inherent religious authority, much in the same way that he left the family of Herod their nominal monarchy, along with the support of a similar Babylonian religion. Certainly the fame of the temple at Emesa and the oracle of Belos at Apamea was widespread, and the hereditary High Priest in the year of grace 179 was an astute gentleman.In that first year of the reign of the Emperor Commodus there was appointed to the command of the fourth Scythian legion then quartered in Syria,
Coin of Antoninus Pius, struck at Emesa
Coin of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (Caracalla)
Face page 26.
in all probability, as Peter thinks, at Emesa itself, an African, one Septimius Severus by name, a native of Leptis Magna in Tripoli, born in the year 146, and therefore about the age of thirty-three years.
Whether or not he was a widower at the time is uncertain. He had previously married a lady, by name Marcia, but as no children by her are known to have existed, it is probable that she was either dead or repudiated by that year, added to which his precocious inquiries as to the marriageable young women in the neighbourhood presuppose that the general was either free or at least travelling en garçon.
The High Priest of the period was — according to two references in the Epitome of Aurelius Victor — a certain Julius Bassianus, descended in hereditary line from the afore-mentioned lamblichus. Certainly he was not a plebeian, as Dion says, somewhat sneeringly, when referring to his daughter's origin, unless, of course, Dion meant in point of comparison with the rank to which she eventually attained.
It was certainly a happy chance that Bassianus possessed not only a wise prophet, but also a superstitious commander in the army of occupation, and was astute enough to work both for the miraculous profit of his house and lineage. Unfortunately he had no daughter old enough for an immediate marriage. She who is presumed the eldest, Domna by name, was at the time only nine years of age, having been born in the year 170, whilst her sister Maesa was presumably somewhat younger.
But to return to the Oracle. In the year of grace 179, when Septimus found himself in a peaceful province, en garçon and very much admired, he took an interest in the marriageable daughters of important persons, like most young men of ambition in their more calculating moments, and — being a religious-minded man — he determined to consult the gods, especially the famous voice which spoke so near at hand. Here he learnt that to the elder daughter of Bassianus was reserved, according to her horoscope, the power of making the man whom she should wed a king. It was an ambitious height to which Septimius aspired, and an ambition which would have cost him his life had Commodus got bruit of the transaction. Nevertheless, being a prudent man, and at the same time ambitious, he resolved to let no chance slip. He did what Bassianus expected — demanded the lady's hand and obtained the reversion thereof.
At what date the marriage took place is by no means certain ; there are two references in Dion which are mutually exclusive. The first says that the Empress Faustine (who, by the way, the same Dion says, died in 175) herself prepared their marriage bed in the precincts of the temple, which sounds a highly unsatisfactory beginning to ordinary matrimony. But as he has just told us that the lady was of an age of five in the year above mentioned, it is highly improbable that her nuptial couch would be prepared by any one, or anywhere, for some time to come, especially as there is no indication that Septimius had heard of the lady before 179, when he consulted the Oracle. Again, Dion assumes that Marcia did not die until Septimius was appointed Governor of Lyonese Gaul about the year 187, so that her husband could only have been playing with astrology, wise prophets, and other things against the time when the obex to solid matrimony should be removed. Possibly even Dion is referring — when he drags in the Empress Faustine — to Septimius' first marriage, or, as has been suggested, the whole thing was a dream of either Septimius or Dion, probably both, as both were much addicted to such proceedings. Considering the so-called scandal against the lady's character, her proclivities, and the knowledge that her eldest son Bassianus was born at Lyons on April 4, 188, it is most natural to conclude that the marriage took place some time in the spring of the year 187, though the pledges may have been given when the child was nine years old or thereabouts, and the actual marriage deferred till Julia's seventeenth year, Septimius amusing himself in the interval, after the manner of soldiers. It must be admitted that, as the record of his scrapes is limited to two, he was more discreet than the majority of his profession.
His choice of a wife, if made on unusual grounds, was more than successful. Few Emperors have had more renowned ladies or more helpful spouses than Julia Domna Pia, the daughter of Bassianus, proved herself to Septimius. It was fortunate that she had more than a horoscope to assist her in her new position. Even the governorship of Lyonese Gaul was an important post, and there she had large scope for the use of her wit, learning, beauty, and wisdom, in addition to her Syrophoenician adaptability for amorous intrigues. By means of which combination the family became people of renown throughout the length and breadth of Pertinax's Empire, a circumstance which enabled them, on the murder of that Emperor, to assume the rôle of avengers, the deliverers of Rome, the saviours of the Empire, which had now three heads but no commander.
It was Julia, we are assured by Capitolinus, who decided her husband to assume the Purple ; it was Julia who first amongst Empresses was Domna, or Mistress, Mater Castrorum, Mater Senatus, Mater Patriae, Mater Totius Populi Romani. Of course she had the sad notoriety of being mother to Caracalla, and late authors (vide Tertullian ad Nationes) have reproached her with many indiscretions — have even accused her of conspiring against her husband ; but Dion, who is by no means partial to her, mentions neither accusation, and the absurdity of the latter throws doubt, at least on the public knowledge of the former story. In any case her elevated mind, her four children, and her rank, even when combined with her sun-warmed nature, ought to have protected her from anything except occasional amusements, of which she might have preferred her husband ignorant. Julia's real fame rests on the basis of her character as a mathematician, an astrologer, and a wise counsellor. The fruit of her learning and philosophy has been handed down to all time by her friend and associate Philostratus in the dedication to her of his Life of Apollonius, the miracle-worker of Tyana, the Thaumaturge whose life and miracles are supposed to form so large a part of the traditional life of Jesus as it exists to-day.
In the palace Julia Domna had gathered round her a circle of learned men, where all subjects were discussed, and whence, in all probability, a contemporary derived his idea of the Deipno sophistae. It was a circle of rhetoricians, lawyers, astrologers, physicians, philosophers, and historians, which included men such as Cassius Dio, Ulpian, Papinian, Paul, Galen, and Philostratus — one and all names which speak volumes for the gravity of the lady and the perfection of her taste. If, therefore, any truth is to be attributed to the account of her frailties, the worst that can be imagined of the pious Julia is, that like the Virgin Queen of this country, she took her recreations in those ways which nature and temperament prompted, while the main business of her life was social, political, and philosophical. Many, like Bayle, have made merry over the carnal anecdotes, though surely for a true judgment of her character the preservation of a single conversation with Philostratus of Lemnos would be worth the record of a thousand dull intrigues — in surmise — for which familiarity has bred contempt.
Besides which, Severus lived in the bosom of his family, or rather of his wife's family, the Bassiani. With his two sons and two daughters there had come to Rome about the year A.D. 193 the family of his wife's sister Julia Maesa, a lady for whom fate had provided no Imperial horoscope, and who in consequence had no right to be anything like as ambitious as her sister the Empress. Maesa was, however, equally beautiful, equally clever, and equally determined to climb, if climbing were possible. To her mind Rome was the place where fortunes were to be made if you had an Imperial connection, so to Rome Maesa came. She had married, at an early age, the Proconsul Julius Avitus, by no means an undistinguished government servant. The fact that he held the governments of Asia, Mesopotamia, and Cyprus successively, and was Consul in the year 209, says something for the trust which was reposed in him. He seems to have been resident in Rome in his own mansion on the Aesquiline — according to Lanciani — from the year 193, a fact which presupposes that he was already a man of wealth and position, who considered himself justified — on account of his relation to the Imperial home — in resigning the government of the provinces, though at no time was the proconsulship an unprofitable possession, even for the most upright. Herodian testifies most fully to the wealth of the family, leading us to suppose that Maesa knew full well that "poverty is no recommendation anywhere," and had amassed money accordingly.
At the period now before us Maesa's political ability seems to have had little or no scope. It was gold she wanted at that time, and gold she was getting together against an emergency. This emergency fate provided under the Emperor Macrinus, and she was thus enabled to use her stores of gold and statecraft with much profit both under Elagabalus and in the early years of Alexander's reign. She was then free, and showed herself in her true colours, a sort of Dowager-Empress after the Chinese pattern, greedy, with a terrible eagerness for power, authority, and a command such as Julia with more good sense had never thought of encompassing. It was a longing that she had to satisfy at the price of her treasure, her popularity — if ever she had any — even at the price of her own children's blood. Maesa's family consisted of two daughters, whose sons were both to become renowned Emperors, men whose names live by their very eccentricities, though their deeds are but far-off fables meet for the acrimonious discussions which make historians famous. Of the two daughters, Soaemias, or Symiamira, the elder, was less of the politician, had less of the calculating, self-possessed individuality which was so strong in both her mother and sister, who were both women with the true courtesan instinct, which could turn their very amours to substantial account. Soaemias was certainly no ruler. She was a living, passionate, human woman, full of the joy of life, generous both for good and evil, courageous too, according to Herodian. By common consent, she was voluptuous, devoted to those who loved her, willing to give her very life for that of her well-loved son. A woman who was bound to be popular with men. and hated by her sisters for all time, both on account of her qualities and her defects. To such a nature the position Lampridius ascribes in the state would have been utterly impossible. Nor is this borne out anywhere by the existing inscriptions, which always make Soaemias take a place second to that of Maesa, except in the Senate on the Quirinal, which was her special concern.
Soaemias married some time before the year 204 Sextus Varius Marcellus. He was, according to Dion, a native of Apamea, and a man of some considerable prominence. As early as 196 we hear of him in the position of Procurator Aquarum, and his advancement, presumably helped by his connection with royalty, was very rapid. Through the usual grades of procuratorships he reached the rank of Praefect in early life, and thence the height of ambition, the Praetorian class of the Senatorial order. At the time of his death he was about to complete his term of office as Legatus Legionis III. Augustae, Praeses provinciae Numidiae, or may just have vacated that position ; at least such is the reading of the inscription according to Domaszewski, who puts his death some time in the year A.D. 217. The young couple seem to have had an estate at Velletri, a city some twenty-five miles south of Rome ; as here Varius Marcellus' funeral inscription was found some short time back. Whether or not her husband's praefectorial duties left Soaemias much to herself can be judged by the statement, made by all authorities, that she spent the greater part of her time with her aunt at Court, which she could scarcely have done had her husband been at Velletri. There is a question raised by Eckhel as to the number of her children ; he cites from a Bilingue Marmor, which contains the inscription — "Julia Soaemias Bassiana cum filis," but as this is the only mention of any children, apart from Bassianus himself, the others have passed into obscure oblivion. Probably this mention is responsible for more than one of the many scandalous stories which centre round her name. She certainly had one son, Varius Avitus Bassianus (sometimes also called Lupus). Whether he was first, second, or last, we have no sort of information. Various writers give the boy different names in early life ; few agree even as to the year of his birth. Dion says that he was born on October 1, 204. Herodian, for no discoverable reason, puts it as early as 201, while both Ammianus Marcellinus and Julianus imply that his birthplace was Emesa, which latter fact seems most improbable. Bassianus' very parentage is obscure, on account of the reputation which his mother had acquired during her residence in Rome. Certainly her cousin Caracalla admired her, but he admired most women of the type, and if we can believe any of the scandals, Soaemias was in no way averse to passing her time in amorous converse with her very vigorous cousin, or indeed with any other strong and healthy soldiers who thronged the imperial ante-chambers. This state of affairs seems to have been one of which people in Rome were well aware, as was testified by the vestal whom Caracalla, having impotently failed to violate, burned alive, protesting her innocence on the grounds that Soaemias had put it beyond the power of Caracalla to violate her when he tried.
In one way it was a misfortune for her son that no one could fix exactly — perhaps his mother least of all — the paternity of Bassianus, though, on the other hand, this very uncertainty had its peculiar uses at the psychological moment. Certainly the discovery that she had other children, whilst Bassianus alone comes to the front, lends countenance to the official story that her attachment to Caracalla was not unfruitful, while the name Bassianus, which her son bore, was the name by which Caracalla was always known until the time of his proclamation, and even afterwards. At any rate there is nothing unlikely in the imperial paternity which all authors mention, some as conjectural, some even assuming as a fact, with, however, very little chance of ascertaining the arcana of the circumstances. There is and can be, at any rate medically speaking, no truth in the abominable suggestion of Lampridius, that the boy was named Varius on account of the variety of gentlemen who contributed to his mise en scene, especially when Lampridius knew, if he knew anything at all, that the lady's husband was by name Varius. What, therefore, was more natural than that the lad should bear the family name along with the other belonging to his natural father the Emperor Bassianus ?
The reputed birthplace is certainly a mystery. Why Soaemias should have taken the long and tiring journey to Emesa, when she could have enjoyed herself so much better in Rome, has never been explained. Even though the birth were an accident which she wished to conceal from her husband, why go to Emesa, where she was best known outside Rome, and where people could talk just as well as in the imperial city? Her husband may have been absent on military or civil duty for too long a time to stop people talking about the interesting event (in some provinces the tenure of office was five years), which would suggest things best left undiscovered, but even then there were many such accidents happening in the best-regulated families. No one would be shocked, her family was in too good a position to allow any such expression of feeling ; she was a married woman and could claim the protection of that state of life at Terracina, or Baiae, or any other seaside resort, until the time was safely over. There seems no suggestion possible that will accord with Julianus' implication. It may be true, though we can see no earthly reason for the journey, and, in the absence of corroboration, we may conclude that in all probability it is merely a loose way of saying that the family of a man belongs to a certain village or island, without necessarily implying that the person in question was himself born there. It may even be a backhanded way of disparaging the birth of him whose memory had to be slighted, by saying that he was a mere provincial nobody, whilst the birth of his murderer and successor is vaunted and raised to great splendour by circumstantial untruth, in order to prove him fully capax imperii. The second daughter of Julia Maesa was Julia Mamaea. While still abroad with her family, she had married another Syrian, by name Gessianus Marcianus, a native of Area. Nothing is known of him except from Dion's statement that he had filled, more than once, the office of Imperial Procurator. By this marriage Mamaea incurred the capitis diminutio on account of the inferior rank of her husband, but by means of a privilegium from Severus and Caracalla she was allowed to retain her own Senatorial rank. Of this admirable woman none of the frailties so common amongst her family and relations are reported. She lived and died a model of unswerving rectitude. This affectation she carried almost to the Jesuit extreme, when she made use of her reputation and wealth to obtain the murder of the nephew of whom she so highly disapproved and by whose murder she would benefit so materially. There is, of course, the story of one indiscretion with Caracalla, by means of which she consented to gain popularity for her son. She, as well as her sister, claimed the distinction of having been Caracalla's mistress, and Alexianus, as well as Bassianus, was claimed as the result of that cousin's too amorous embraces. The admission was doubtless due rather to a hypocritical affectation of wickedness, prompted by the political exigencies of the moment, than to the fact that her cold and stately beauty had unbent to tempt a too ardent cousin by the offer of those seductive attractions which he could get so easily elsewhere. Especially as the assumption of this role of temptress might cause her in after-life all the reproaches of a misspent youth, with little to show for the sacrifice. Perhaps mention ought to be made of the opinion of Dexippus, that the boys Bassianus and Alexianus were cousins-german paternal, which, as we know from theologians, when they are fitting facts to theory, is the same thing as brothers by the same father. Certainly Mamaea's beauty is remarkable. As we see it in her bust at the Louvre, she is a younger edition of her aunt Julia, perhaps without the humanity and gentleness expressed in that lady's portrait, which is to be found in the Rotondo at the Vatican, but there is a real resemblance between the two. Both, though Syrian by race, are remarkably Western in type, whereas the features of Julia Soaemias — in the statue representing her as Venus Coelestis, also in the Vatican museum — are distinctly of a more Oriental cast. Soaemias' form is most beautiful, though it must be confessed that her head and arms would have pleased Rubens' taste better than they do our present pre-Raphaelite ideas of attractiveness. Soaemias' history, however, leaves no doubt in our minds that all men considered her the more attractive at the time ; and certainly, if but a tittle of the stories concerning her be true, she must have been as fascinating as the goddess in whose form she has been portrayed.
We have now before us the main personages in the political revolution of the year A.D. 218, a revolution which displaced the Moor, the beloved of the Senate, and replaced the house of Severus, the beloved of the army, upon that peak whereon the young Emperors of old Rome balanced themselves — a peak with a precipice on either side.
First, there is the Empress Julia Domna Pia, clever, witty, sagacious, and beautiful.
Then her sister, Julia Maesa, Sanctissima, — for so her religiosity is described — the widow of Julius Avitus, wealthy, hard, crafty, and domineering, but a woman with a policy and limitless determination, as her later history shows. Then her two daughters —
(1) Julia Soaemias Bassiana, the wife of Varius Marcellus, beautiful, voluptuous, religious, neurotic, the mother of Elagabalus, a woman with few, if any, political aspirations, tendencies, or abilities.
(2) Julia Mamaea, the upright (except when other things paid better), classic, cold, calculating, philosophic, mildly interested in Christianity, and devoted to the interests of her own family.
Finally, the two successive Emperors, their sons, Varius Avitus Bassianus, the impulsive, affectionate, headstrong child of about thirteen years, with all his mother's hereditary sexuality, neurotic religion, and love of life ; and Alexianus, a child of approximately nine, Mamaea's son, and bearing her reputation, of whom more at a later time.
Let us follow in outline the actions and movements of this family from the death of the Emperor Antoninus Caracalla to the inception of the movement which placed his, at least reputed, son in his place.Without doubt the family had lived securely and delicately in Rome through the reigns of Septimius
Severus and his son, growing in wisdom, stature, and prosperity, and, as far as we know, in favour with God and man, until the tragic events of the year 217 made it appear that the fortunes of the family had come to a sudden and decided collapse. The circumstances of the death of Caracalla were typical of that age of sovereignty. As a general rule the knife gave what a dish of mushrooms took away. Caracalla's government had been cruel and severe in the extreme, but he was adored by the army, with whom he lived and worked, not as Emperor, but as comrade. For them he could never do enough in the way of privileges, for them the treasury was depleted, and cities turned into cemeteries that they might have the booty. Fighting was as natural to him as to a tiger cat ; and fighting he died. It was for the pursuit of a campaign against the Parthians that the Emperor and Court had moved to Antioch in Syria, where Julia, his mother, was acting as Secretary of State, while the Emperor was bounding like a panther upon the various cities of Mesopotamia. In the pursuit of her duties, it happened that there came into her hands certain letters warning her of a plot against her son's life.
With the army at that time was a praefect, Opilius Macrinus by name, a Moorish lawyer of low birth and pedantic habits. He had been procurator to Plautianus, the so-called traitor, whom both Julia and Caracalla had hated. Now Macrinus had been honoured by Severus after Plautianus' murder, and still stood high in the imperial favour — though he was treated by the Emperor, says Dion, as a sort of buffoon. Macrinus had dreamed that the purple should be his, and was supported in his wish by the African astrologer Serapion, who was obliging enough to prophesy the speedy demise of Aurelius Antonine in Macrinus' favour.
Julia immediately sent dispatches containing the account of what was going forward to her son, who, as usual, was absent from the city. When these arrived in the camp, Caracalla was just mounting his chariot, and gave orders that the mail should be taken first to Macrinus, who would sift its contents and only bring what was necessary to the Emperor. Thus did Macrinus learn that his treachery was discovered and a death-sentence for real or supposed treason imminent, which unpleasant certainty he resolved to obviate without further delay. In a very few days he had discovered a discontented person willing to do his work, one Martialis, a centurion, whose brother, according to Herodian, had recently been executed for some military offence, or, in Dion's version, because he was angered at his own tardy promotion. These two discussed the matter and resolved on the extermination of their mutual grievance, Martialis to do the deed.
The opportunity came on the 8th April 217, when Caracalla was on a journey to visit the temple of the Moon at Charrae in Mesopotamia. By the way, he had occasion to dismount for purposes of natural relief, and withdrew somewhat from his staff, thus leaving himself unprotected. Martialis saw his opportunity. On the pretext of having been called, he rushed up and stabbed the defenceless Emperor in the back, then made off, followed by the German officers, who immediately got wind of what had been done. He was the cat's paw, and suffered the penalty that Macrinus had foreseen would be his. Four days later, and, faute de mieux, the army offered the Empire to this same Macrinus, little wotting for the moment what his part had been in the tragedy they deplored, desiring only a leader against the approaching forces of King Artabanus. As usual, according to Herodian, the Senate breathed a sigh of relief when the Emperor died. In their effete condition they were only too anxious to change masters as often as possible. With a want of political sense and ability, which so well merited the treatment they received at the hands of their tyrants, that august body continually preferred — with an entire lack of statesmanship — the unknown to the known evils of their future.
At the time of Caracalla's death, Julia's chief grief was at the loss of her influence. During the last quarter of a century she had had the world at her feet, and not the world of sycophants by any means. Latterly she had enjoyed the supreme power, and must have had enormous patronage in her hands ; naturally her nominees would be men eager in her interest and support. Dion seems to say that her first idea was one of suicide, as a means of escaping her loss of prestige, but he shows us that her fears proved groundless, since the new Emperor left her in Antioch with the outward marks of her dignity unaltered. It was certainly not a wise policy from Macrinus' point of view. Julia, knowing at least of his treachery, and ably assisted by her crafty sister, took advantage of the mismanagement of the Parthian campaign, and the insensate strictness with which this pedantic lawyer immediately attempted to reform the manners of his young soldiers, to suggest that she herself would make a better ruler than this pedagogue (at least, so one gathers from Dion, 78-23). It was a chimerical scheme at best, and as Julia knew her Rome so well, she must have realized that no woman could have a chance, as sole ruler, in such an environment. It is therefore more natural to suppose that if she attempted anything at all, it was to suggest some youth to the army in whose name she could exercise the power she loved ; and who was more natural than the son of Soaemias and Caracalla? It is conjectural, of course, but the report of his paternity seems already to have been abroad, and will account for the extraordinary alacrity with which the troops received the lad a few months later. At any rate, something caused Macrinus to change his mind as to the advisability of allowing Julia and her relations to remain longer in the Eastern capital. Thus he ordered them to return at once to Emesa, whence they were sprung. Julia was too proud to submit to the condition of subject under the adventurer whom her family had raised from nothing, or to become after so much grandeur an object of public pity. She resolved, therefore, to escape from her distress like a Stoic of ancient days. Moreover, she was suffering from a disease which is still considered incurable. Death was approaching her ; she went out to meet it. and either allowed herself to die of starvation or pierced her cancer with a poisoned dagger. The report that Macrinus had ordered her suicide is quite incompatible with his other dealings towards the family of Bassianus.
Maesa, more prudent and more far-seeing, resolved to obey the order literally, and returned with her widowed daughters (Dion), their two sons, and all her vast treasure to her native city of Emesa, some 125 miles south of Antioch. Here, as we have already pointed out, the family was of immense importance, not only on account of their hereditary position, but by reason of their wealth and imperial connections. Macrinus' short tenure of office is one continual record of gross blunders, of which this is about the most futile, comparable only with a few similar acts perpetrated by our own Stuart dynasty and the last hereditary kings of France. Emesa was the one place in the Empire where Maesa had real power and authority. A whole city would back her pretensions and further her schemes with a devotion that Macrinus could only expect from the handful of Moors who formed his bodyguard.