The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus/Chapter III
As we have suggested, Maesa saw more possibilities in living than in assaying that better part which can never be taken from men, which circumstance shows that she at least was not tainted with the growing superstition that a mythical eternity is preferable to a certain present. She promptly obeyed the edict of banishment which Macrinus had published against the relations of the murdered Emperor, and, as we have said, took with her to her native city the whole of her wealth and belongings. It was some time during the winter of 217/18 that Macrinus ordered the family of Bassianus to leave Antioch, and it was this very departure that eventually cost him his throne and life. Certainly he must have known that plans for replacing the house of Antonine on the throne were rife. The final result shows months of work, effected only by hosts of agents. In fact, we may almost surmise that government servants all over the Empire had never acquiesced in the usurpation of Macrinus at all, and were merely biding their time. There was only one safe plan for Macrinus, if he wanted the loyalty of the civil and military parties in the state, namely, to extirpate the whole house of Antonine. Instead of taking this sensible and necessary measure, he merely banished the relations of Caracalla, whom the soldiers regarded as their natural allies, most especially the son and impersonator of that Emperor, the young Bassianus, now aged about fourteen years.
They had more than one grudge against Macrinus. First, they felt the utter disgrace of the Parthian campaign, and were disgusted at the lying medal to celebrate a victory which all the world knew to have been a colossal defeat. Next, they were righteously annoyed at the restrictions put on their usual liberty. Third, they were quite unnecessarily relegated, on half rations, to uncomfortable winter quarters, their pay reduced, and their privileges stopped.
It is easy to imagine the soldiers' disgust at finding themselves subjects to a mere legal pedant, in the place of their popular idol and born leader Caracalla, subjects of a man whose prime object seemed to be the infliction of harsh and unnecessary punishments in all matters concerning the ordinary enjoyments common to their state and life — a ruler whose first reforms were to make criminal offences those natural pleasures which were alone considered to make the strenuous military life endurable. Tristran, quoting from Dion, recalls a law which ordained the burning alive of a soldier and his mistress (junctis corporibus) ; or, as an act of grace, their walling up together (in the same interesting condition), and their being left to die of hunger and suffocation. This feeling of rebellion was by no means lessened when men knew that the new Emperor was taking his ease at Antioch, the Queen of the East, and they compared this treatment with what they had received from their friend and comrade the late Emperor. Macrinus was full of regulations for others, but fully impressed with the legal maxim that the lawgiver is above the law. It is small wonder, all things considered, if the prayers of that host were that the Gods would favour their suppliants both in their hatreds and in their lusts, prayers that were offered in such right Davidic fashion that Forquet de Dorne thinks the attempts made even during this period against the Emperor's life would have been successful, if it had not been for the fidelity of his fellow Moors. Macrinus, like other amateur soldiers, did not recognise the power of the army in the government of a military empire. He seems to have thought that the best way to play up to his electors was to adopt a title of Severus and display it towards them in all its rigour. Not that Macrinus' incapacity as a statesman and military leader ceased here ; he made a yet greater mistake in leaving a large and discontented army in winter quarters in Syria, partly at Emesa itself. These legions were nominally for the protection of Phoenicia ; actually, they kept Maesa in touch with the outside world, and were under the direct influence of her active brain and limitless treasure, for to such Herodian gives us to understand that her spoils approximated. Little could the Moor have imagined what a volcano he was preparing for himself when he left together the discontented legionaries, the aunt of Caracalla, and the representative of the house and name of Severus : whose title to bastardy henceforward became of prime importance to the family and their fortunes.
Julia Maesa had not lived for twenty-five years at the Roman Court for nothing. She knew the men with whom she had to deal, she was accustomed to observe and meditate ; further, she had gold which openeth the heart of man, and an intelligence quite acute enough to know where it could best be spent in order to yield the largest return. Besides this, she had a grandson celebrated for his remarkable beauty, his vivid intelligence, and his admirable gaiety. For such a youth employment must be found immediately. Here at Emesa was the very thing ready to hand, the sacerdotal position which was the property of the family. Maesa knew that a high position in the Church is an acquisition which, even in this life, is of lucrative and social advantage to the holder. The High-Priesthood of one of the most important religions of Syria was Bassianus' possession for the mere trouble of undergoing the ordination rite, while with it there still went a certain amount of the former princely kudos of that house. No sooner had the family, with apparent grief and tribulation, covered the intervening miles, than Bassianus was endowed with the family offices, dignities, and emoluments, while his cousin Alexianus was most probably associated with him as a sort of priest or acolyte. A very fitting figure the boy made as High Priest of the Semitic Elagabal or Sun God, the God of Gods made without hands, supreme, fecund, potent, and glorious. Elagabal was worshipped under the symbol of a great black stone or meteorite, in the shape of a Phallus, which, having fallen from the heavens, represented a true portion of the Godhead, much after the style of those black stone images popularly venerated in Normandy and other parts of Europe to-day. The temple itself was of great renown ; its celebrity was gained from the fact that it represented the greatest natural force of all time, and its magnificence was in proportion to its renown. Gold, silver, and precious stones had poured into it, not only from the countryside and from Judea, but from kings, satraps, and vassals all over the Eastern provinces. Solomon's temple, though nominally the last word in barbaric ostentation, was easily surpassed in taste, richness, and splendour at Emesa. Herodian paints vividly the sensuous beauty of the worship, the vestments, the music, the dances, the sacrifices, and the mysteries, till one has only to substitute Jehovah for Baal, and one has a familiar scene ; rather more splendid, rather more cosmopolitan than the Jerusalem mysteries, but equally designed to entrance the beholder and to mystify the devout. But whereas Baal drew all men within his warm, natural, fecund embrace, Jehovah was at best a local deity whom no one—save those urged on by tribal necessities—had ever thought it worth while to propitiate, let alone to serve, at least if we can form any idea of his importance from the Semitic literature and philosophy when compared with that of the Western Empire.
Into all this power and sensuous beauty Bassianus stepped proudly, as supreme lord, knowing how well it became his own splendid magnificence. He must have been warned that it was but a means to an end, that here he had no abiding city; but unfortunately he had a strong strain of mystical devotion in his blood, and immediately became an enthusiast for his deity. From the first moment that he appears upon the scene the boy is always the same, impulsive, enthusiastic, mystical, continually dominated by that effete neuroticism which still trades under the name of religion. Thus Bassianus gloried in the beauty, which to his mind expressed, however inadequately, the potency of his ineffable deity. Here was a God who was able to make men happy, and had taken him into a very specially protective embrace; a God who was evidently supreme, only, and alone, the God of the Universe. Further, Bassianus gloried in his own beauty, the perfection with which he had learnt to dance that indolent measure to the kiss of flutes, robed in garments the like of which he had not imagined during his residence in the city of the Caesars.Now, it will be remembered that Caracalla's soldiers were wintering, half-fed, loveless, and discontented in that place, and, as is not uncommon with simple men of that profession, they were easily attracted by the mysterious and the unusual. Soon they heard of this wonderful boy, in whose face was the enigmatic beauty shared by Gods and women; and further, it was rumoured that, unlike most religious functionaries, this priest was more ready to give than to receive. They came in scores to watch and worship, and found, when they came, that he possessed the charm of the dissolute and the wayward, heightened by the divine. On his head was a diadem set with precious stones, whose iridescence sparkled like a luminous aureole about his brow. His frail tunic was of clinging purple silk diapered with gold, the sleeves were wide, after the Phoenician fashion, and fell to his feet, and he was shod with fine gilded leather reaching to his thighs. Many of those who gazed upon him must have seen and remarked his beauty in the great City of the Empire, whilst those who ascended to the temple and beheld its rites believed each day more strongly (assisted, of course, by Maesa's well-spent incentive) that they beheld the child of destiny. Never had his beauty appealed as now; never had the soldiery felt the need of a deliverer as much as at present. Still the numbers—attracted by rumour—grew greater till the lad, feeling the return of Rome to himself, ceased to dance, and strolled amongst his beloved soldiers, surveying them with the bold feminine eyes they loved. Amongst the troops was a certain Eutychianus, called by Xiphilinus, Comazon, because he took part in
This man and the tutor Gannys seem to have been the means of forcing home on the neglected legionaries two most important items of information. Through them the soldiers were reminded that Bassianus was their murdered comrade's son and heir, issue of the Emperor and his equally popular cousin Soaemias—that fiery-eyed woman of superb bearing, before whom fire had been carried as before an Empress, and yet one whose favours had ever been for the strong, whose predilections were for the military. Here they found her again, passionate as ever, banished on account of her relationship to their dead leader, and banished by the man they now knew to be his murderer. And further, they found her rich. Sedulously she caused the rumour of her generosity to circulate, until all men knew about the lumps of gold she was ready to give to any one who would place her Antonine on the throne of his father. It may have been that more than one in that camp could have traced a resemblance to himself in the young priest's features, but none did, the lumps of gold had a language all their own, a persuasive power so potent that not only was Bassianus recognised with a frenzy of loyalty, but his less attractive cousin Alexianus was accepted as his half-brother, a youth whose imperial paternity was at least as possible as his own.
Now the question was, could anything be done to put these protestations of loyalty to some practical use ? Bassianus was certainly accepted by the legionaries early in the year 218 as the legitimate bastard and heir of Caracalla ; the true Augustus, deprived of his throne and heritage by the hated Moor,—the man who had killed their idol, and was now oppressing them (which was perhaps more to the point) with the multitude of his civilian parsimonies.
Already Maesa's plans (or were they those of Julia Pia?) were taking shape in a manner almost too good to be true, when, to the help of the youth and his relatives, came the divine portents, which were the accustomed foreshadowings of important events. The great God veiled his face. Elagabal signified his displeasure at the rule of the murderer by an eclipse, and following on the eclipse came a comet, a daystar from on high (another frequently recurring sign of the rise of a redeemer and of the rejuvenation of the world). These signs and portents were doubtless adequately explained to the soldiers, and seem to have decided them to redeem their promises. Within four days, according to Wirth, it was decided that Bassianus should repair to the camp with his treasure, and be proclaimed Emperor by the whole army in that province. Of course, all this took time. Authorities differ, not only as to the method adopted, but also as to the month in which the proclamation took place. Dion states definitely that Bassianus was proclaimed Emperor at dawn on 16th May 218. Wirth, criticising Dion, decides that the proclamation took place almost immediately after the eclipse, which we know from Oppolzer took place on 12th April. He quotes Dion's own words that the proclamation took place ὑπὸ τὰς ἡμέρας ἐκείνας of the eclipse ; therefore 16th May is obviously a scribe's error for 16th April, as the phrase is quite incapable of bearing the meaning within thirty-four days. Further, Wirth goes on to explain that haste was an obvious necessity, as no troops would ever be left in winter quarters till the middle of May. The middle of April, in that province, was more than late enough to account for Dion's statement that the troops had been unduly delayed in winter quarters that year. Undoubtedly, Wirth's suggestion as to an earlier date of proclamation than that stated in the present text of Dion is the most likely ; the difficulty lies in the fact that from 16th April to 8th June, the date of the battle, there is a period of seven weeks in which the active Maesa apparently did nothing ; but more of this later. To continue with the story. When the preparations were ready, and the portents of the eclipse had decided the superstitious, Dion says that Bassianus, Maesa, and the family of the Bassiani, with wagons bearing their treasure, the ransom of the Empire, left the city, and took up their quarters within the camp on the night of 15th April (or 15th May) 218. Herodian says that only Bassianus and Eutychianus went, and by stealth, as Maesa was ignorant of the final plans, though both agree that at dawn on the next day the High Priest, Bassianus, was brought out, shown to the soldiers, habited in the clothes that Caracalla had worn, and then, Macrinus having been deposed, Bassianus was elected Emperor in his stead, under the title of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Antonini Filius, Severi Nepos, Augustus, Pius, Felix. Herodian adds that the camp was at once fortified, both to protect the young Emperor—who, like his putative father, preferred the camp to the palace—and also to withstand the punitive expedition which Macrinus was bound to send as soon as he heard of the revolt and mutiny. The news would take at least a couple of days to reach Antioch, if not considerably longer, considering that the soldiers had taken care to keep the proceedings within the camp. In due course Macrinus heard of their audacity. He was astonished and disgusted, and frankly said so. The account which he sent to the Senate was not pleasant reading for any of those it concerned ; but except by means of the pen, the nominally deposed Emperor did not think that much need be done. Still, that a mere boy, with a handful of women, should have seduced the defenders of a province was preposterous. Something must be done to show the soldiery that, though Caracalla might have stood such freedom of choice (which by the way he never did), he, Macrinus, was now master of the Empire, and incidentally their master as well. It was a veritable storm in a tea-cup, of course, but really upsetting to the man who thought that his troubles were now over, that rest remained for the elect of the Gods. The remarkable thing about Macrinus is, that he seems to have been absolutely in the dark as to the state of public opinion, and the extent of the plot for replacing the Antonine House on the throne. As we read the history of Bassianus' phenomenal rise to power, there is a ring of the English Restoration. It is impossible to account for his universal success except on the grounds that the government officials everywhere as well as the soldiers recognised in him a legitimate sovereign and an obvious ruler. From the moment at which he set up his standard there seems to have been no sort of adequate opposition either from the civil or military government of Macrinus ; while, on the other hand, Bassianus obviously had a party organised in every city and province, which was sedulously kept informed of his progress from day to day. Not only a party, but the party, as there is no instance—except at Alexandria, where the Antonines were scarcely popular—of Bassianus' legates being received otherwise than with open arms. None of which facts argue well for the position of the Moor in the state. Macrinus was inclined to overestimate his popularity, and he certainly underestimated the influence of youths and women. Perhaps he had no experience of female tactics, and the persistency with which they prosecute their own designs ; he obviously thought a sententious letter to the Senate, full of smug platitudes, abuse of the army and the house of Antonine, was what that august assembly wanted. So far he had not missed his mark ; but when he went on to inform them that they would never have any desire to wish him any hurt, one of the Senators, Fulvius Diogenianus by name (who was obviously better informed than the majority as to the likelihood of their having to put up with Macrinus much longer), answered immediately and with surprising candour, "But that is what we are all longing for" ; whereupon the Senate sent word to the army that their general and Emperor was not to be trusted on several counts.
Macrinus, however, was not entirely idle ; he had at least begun to think. True, he had, for himself, preferred the pen to the sword, and then found that the pen was a double-edged weapon like the sword, only rather more dangerous, because it constituted documentary evidence. Still, he would not let others err in the same way. He sent for his Praetorian Praefect, Ulpius Julianus, to attend at his silken couch and talk business. The result of this conference was that Macrinus resolved to strike fear, by proxy of course, into the hearts of that "child and idiot," his two women, and the legion who supported him; and where, he argued, would the revolt be when their hopes, centred in a child, too young to know even the rudiments of politics, were suddenly blighted ? Of course, he would like news, and yes, he thought he had better say it, the boy's head in a charger—stone-dead hath no fellow. It would put the Emperor quite at his ease once again to know that his rival was dead. It was perhaps foolish to be concerned about so effete a crew, nothing could come of it all ; but still he would feel relieved if Julian would go at once to Emesa.
We are not told how long Julian took in his preparations, or on the journey. From Macrinus' attitude of disregard, probably he was not specially pressed, though from his selection of troops Julian must have thought the rising more important than Macrinus had pretended in his letter to the Senate. Julian's chief anxiety was to secure loyalty to Macrinus amongst the men he took for the suppression of this revolt. Certain incautious speculations amongst the men led to the execution of several before the expedition started. From his position as Praetorian Praefect, Julian would take a fair contingent ; his dignity demanded it, and probably his knowledge of the state of politics would tell him that a strong movement was necessary at the outset. Apparently about three legions went in all. Julian added to his forces a large number of Moors, unless Herodian means that he took the Moorish cohorts of the Praetorian Guard as main body, and added other men to these ; in any case, it seems obvious that, even if the government had not got wind of what was going forward, the army had, and in consequence the Moors, as Macrinus' own countrymen, were considered the most trustworthy soldiers for the work, besides which they were never over-particular in their methods. There is evidence that, no matter how much he might belittle the movement in public, Macrinus knew that the "Idiot" and his two women were likely to have a full dog's chance, and get a good run for their money.
The journey from Antioch to Emesa is, as we have said, a matter of 125 miles. The report of the meeting inside the camp had to reach Macrinus ; he had to get his mind attuned to the extraordinary circumstances ; then appoint Julian, who had to make his inquisition and other preparations, and then get to Emesa. Conjecturally, he could not have arrived with an effective force much before the 28th of April, or settled down to attack the fortified camp outside the city till that day. On the first day, Dion tells us that Julian all but took the camp in a long day's fight ; but it was heavy work, and, contrary to Macrinus' expectation, the arrival of Julian had not struck fear into the heart of the "effeminate and debauched Syrian lad," who was still with his soldiers, and showed no intention of giving way even when the sun began to decline in the west.Unfortunately for Julian—and incidentally for his master also, as things turned out—the Praefect
Coin of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (Caracalla)
Coin of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (Elagabalus)
Coin of Macrinus recording Victoria Parthica, A.D. 218
(From a woodcut.)
Coin of Diadumenianus as Emperor, A.D. 218 (British Museum).
Face page 60.
thought that "the night cometh in which no man can work," and gave his Moors leave to retire to their lines at sunset. With them went certain of the Emesan legionaries, displaying a hardihood truly heroic, unless they were fairly sure of their ground. All that night they worked, spreading their evangel, talking, persuading, and promising on behalf of Antonine and his gold ; talking until even the besieging Moors knew full well that those walls held not only the son of Caracalla, but the limitless wealth which he was ready to give to all those who would assist him in reaching the throne of his father and their hero. It was enough. When morning broke, the vision of his Augustitude was seen above the walls of the camp, dressed in garments which they could recognize from their colour and shape as having belonged to Caracalla, and surrounded by his money bags. There he stood, boldly and proudly, certainly in imminent danger of death from the besiegers, but without fear, while all around him rose a great shout, "Behold the image of your benefactor ! can you fight against him and us, who stand by him for his father's sake ?" Now, the resemblance, as shown on the coins given by Cohen (vide coin 8, p. 324, and coin 1, p. 243, vol. iv.), is quite remarkable ; whether it was merely a family likeness or entirely paternal, it was quite good enough for men who at some little distance were already convinced, and entirely anxious to share in the largess that they had seen was already the prize of others.
There was no further fighting, for all Julian's orders. The soldiers threw down their arms and refused battle against the popular idol. True, there was still a question of heads, but the head of the "Idiot" was not thought about in the old connection ; it was too valuable where it was. It was the officers of Macrinus who suffered at the hands of those who were candidates for their offices, and to whom the position and property of the defunct had been promised by the new Emperor. The last to fall was Julian. That trusty favourite of the deposed Emperor had managed to escape when he saw the way that the tide was flowing, but for a general commanding-in-chief to escape is not easy, and there were doubtless many aspirants for his responsibility and position. Herodian tells a dismal tale of the Praefect found in hiding, where he was given a short shrift, because his head was wanted for a use other than that of commanding the Praetorian Guards. The ingeniousness of the conquerors had designed it as an evangel, or announcement of good tidings to Macrinus, impersonating the head he wanted, that of Bassianus the Impostor.
But to return to Macrinus. Julian departed on his mission, the Emperor seems to have got more and more worried ; people must have told him things which he had never heard before, and he appears to have worked himself into a fever of excitement, a simple longing to do something, no matter what, to get on the move, to propitiate somebody, chiefly the soldiers whom he had neglected, and well, perhaps, just a bit persecuted. It had all been for their good, of course, but now he had to think of his own good ; and so he set out towards Emesa. Not that he had any intention of endangering his precious person by going anywhere in that vicinity himself; but there was the second Parthian Legion, enrolled by Severus, and very loyal to the house of Antonine, which was wintering at Apamea, about half-way between Antioch and Emesa. Perhaps it would be as well to modify that precious title of his by gifts, largesses, and other privileges, especially in the case of this particular legion of Albano, as it was called, a legion which was so near the danger zone, and whose defection might simply mean flight for Macrinus. Gold had worked miracles at Emesa, but Macrinus was not so foolish as to expect miracles, he only wanted mercenary service ; neither did he want any more talk of bribes, which every one would accept very readily, and would as readily repudiate the responsibility thereby incurred. But surely what had paid at Emesa ought to pay at Apamea too. If a boy Emperor Bassianus was popular there, why not set up a child yet younger than the impostor ; in fact, why not make his own son, Diadumenianus, Associate Emperor with himself? The boy was quite ten years of age, and would make a fitting set-off to the "Idiot" of fourteen, whose youthful pretensions he had just derided so conclusively before the Senate. Besides which, it would be an additional security for his family if anything untoward should happen, and would furnish the occasion for a largess, which Macrinus was wanting. It would be an occasion at which no one could cavil, no one pretend to sneer. Neither would it be a craven act, such as the late dealings with Parthia had been stigmatised. It was quite a budget that the ponderous lawyer had thought out in so short a space of time. Travelling, he knew not quite whither, had sharpened his wits wonderfully, and he did more than plan ; he executed his design without delay. The legions rejoiced once more in their demoralising privileges, and in more than they could have hoped for in the way of extra pay. Dion tells us that on the day when Macrinus declared his son Antonine and Augustus (with no senatorial patent, of course) he promised to each legionary 5000 drachmae, of which 1000 were to be paid down. Further, in the letter to the Senate which announced his son's elevation, he promised to each Roman citizen a congiary of 150 drachmae. Obviously Macrinus was changing his views ; in his last letter he had played up to the Senate and despised the army ; he was now playing up to the army, and showing the Senate and sovereign people of Rome that he estimated their worth at just one thirty-third of the amount at which he valued a base soldier — a man who would continually suffer himself to be bribed, to the enormous hurt of the state, as he had so recently enforced upon the senatorial attention.
Macrinus was certainly not clever, his acrobatic feats were never graceful, never gained him much applause even from the gallery. The occasion of this congiary and donative was certainly a good bid for general popularity ; rejoicings went on apace ; the obedient Senate, having taken their bribe, poured contumely upon the house of Antonine with a hearty goodwill, and declared its members enemies to the state and commonwealth of Rome. But somehow no one was quite satisfied, certainly not Macrinus ; the news he was expecting did not come ; the head he wanted had not yet been sent.
There is a certain difficulty about the date of Diadumenianus' elevation. Neither Dion nor Herodian state definitely when it was effected, Mommsen postulates that it must be late in May on account of the scarcity of evidence on the point. There are several known coins which call him Emperor, one struck at Antioch, another at Thyatira in 218; a third obviously earlier in the same year omits the title. Certainly the writer of Macrinus' letters to the Senate places it after the proclamation of Bassianus, and leads one to suppose that it took place as given above, at Apamea, and was the means adopted to conciliate the legionaries.
Meanwhile at Emesa busy brains had been busily at work. A gentle reminder of his perilous position was on the way to Macrinus. By way of showing him that Julian had forced a battle, and was sending the spoil to grace the estivities arranged for the Child Emperor's elevation, Eutychianus Comazon, the soldier whose persuasive power and influence had been of such use to Maesa, bethought himself of a pleasant surprise. He took the Praefect's head and wrapped it in linen cloths, tied it with many and elaborate cords, then, taking Julian's own signet, he sealed the bundle carefully and sent it by the hands of a trusty and cunning soldier. "From the victorious Praefect Julian to his august Emperor, with greeting. The head and source of our offence, according to the commandment." Judge of the fright and disgust which arose in the breast of that Moor on discovering, when the bundle was opened, not the features of his despised enemy, but the death-mask of his trusty and well-beloved lieutenant, the man who had saved him from Caracalla's vengeance at the outset of his own plot. Merely that, and no further news to hand, because the bearer of the tidings had departed without waiting for a reward. Bit by bit the news trickled through : at least four legions had deserted, and, greatest blow of all, the very Moors in whom he had trusted. The hated Antonine was triumphant and in the ascendant. It was enough to wake even the comatose parody of the great Marcus Aurelius. After waiting to recover his senses, he took to his heels and ran — discretion being the better part of valour — not, however, as Herodian suggests, with characteristic untruth, towards Emesa, but back to Antioch, as Dion discreetly remarks, with Bassianus and his paltry, though rapidly augmenting, forces soon to follow. The boy and idiot was ready to fight the Praetorian Guards, ready even to face the brunt of opposition from the conciliated legion at Apamea if necessary.
Bassianus' army must have been enthusiastically loyal and keen. It was a motley crew of men, with new officers and a disorganised commissariat ; certainly it had no adequate head. Indeed, had Macrinus taken the bull by the horns at once, he was bound to have cut up Antonine's forces and silenced the revolt ; but he escaped, hoping to fight another day, and Bassianus instead came to Apamea. Here Severus' legion of Albano was in no mood to offer opposition to the heir of Severus, and promptly took the suggested oaths, which added yet more strength to the rush that was about to be made on Antioch, where Macrinus was sheltering himself and shivering with apprehension, having left the field clear to his adversary, and given him just what he wanted, time for accession of strength.
To return for a moment to the length of time during which this campaign lasted. If we accept Dion's date of 16th May for the proclamation, there will only be three weeks left before the battle, in which time much has to happen. First, The news has to be brought to Macrinus 125 miles away. Second, Macrinus has to appoint Julian, who has carefully to choose his men, to reach Emesa, and lose his head in the effort to take Antonine. In the meantime Macrinus has written to the Senate to announce the revolt, and get that body's condemnation of the Antonine house. He has then gone to Apamea with the court and baggage, declared his son Emperor, and, as he thought, pacified the legion and organised festivities, during which festivities he receives ocular demonstration of the failure of Julian's attempt. He then writes to the Senate a hurried letter announcing his son's accession, and receives an answer to his first letter condemning the house of Antonine. He then retires to Antioch, and here there seems to be a lull, during which time the patrolling parties, for whom Macrinus has sent, come in to Bassianus' standard, not Macrinus'. Herodian says that this happened in driblets, but that these amounted to such a number before the 1st of June, that Antonine's generals advised him to tempt a battle. All this, especially the wait for gradual accessions of strength, would have been impossible to fit into less than a fortnight.
But there is further evidence. According to Henzen, the Collegio Fratrum Arvalium were concerned on 30th May with the "precatio cooptionis Antonini," to be admitted a member of the College. If the proclamation had only taken place on 16th May, the Brothers could not have known about it and arranged a meeting by 30th May, especially when we consider that (according to Dion) Macrinus' letters to the Senate had caused that august body to declare war on the family of Antonine after that time. Had Bassianus been proclaimed on 16th April and the Brothers heard of his phenomenal success, they would naturally hasten to be on the safe side by 30th May. Within a month from that date they would have heard of the defeat of Macrinus, so that in all probability the meeting which admitted Bassianus and sent Primus Cornelianus to announce his admission was held about 28th June. On 14th July there is the record of a third meeting, which merely takes further vows for Antonine's safety, as the Emperor, who has been already admitted a member. Dion's date is, therefore, simply impossible. Neither Macrinus nor Antonine could have accomplished what they did in a fortnight, even three weeks. Rome could not possibly have heard and answered under five weeks, even by express post. Bassianus could not possibly have got together forces enough to assure success under that period. We must therefore conclude that Dion's date, 16th May, is a mere slip for 16th April, as Wirth has postulated.
This is very forcibly brought home to us when we realise (as Herodian tells us) that when Bassianus did move on Antioch, it was with forces scarcely inferior in number to those with Macrinus, and by so doing he managed to frighten the Moor out of his lair, because there was a fear that Antioch might fall and he would be caught like a rat in a trap. Thus was Macrinus forced out to meet the child. Again the ancient Procurator-Fiscal made an error of judgment by taking command himself. He would have done better to stay in the city and give the command to a trained general ; but not a bit of it, he was too anxious, too worried to trust any one. When he heard that Antonine was nearing Immae or Emma, not twenty miles from Antioch, he went out suddenly, resolved to trust to his Moors and Praetorians for the result.
In this battle the valour of both armies seems to have been indifferent. Herodian tells us that the soldiers of Antonine fought like lions, fearing the results of doing anything else ; preferring to die like men than to be hanged like dogs ; a report of valour which was probably picked up from that army itself. But the stars in their courses seem to have fought against Sisera in the person of Macrinus, while Deborah and her leman Barak, otherwise Maesa and her similarly related Gannys (neither of whom had ever seen red blood before save in the circus) managed so to shut up the forces of Macrinus in the narrowness of the village, that their numbers and superior agility, divested as they were of their cuirasses and bucklers for that end, were of small effect. Nevertheless, the issue of the battle would have been not a little doubtful if Macrinus had not given it away by his cowardice. The guards made so vigorous a stand, that Antonine's army turned to fly. It was then that Maesa and Soaemias showed their bravery, according to both Dion and Herodian, for, having leapt from their chariots, they rushed into the midst of the failing troops, and with tears and entreaties urged them to return. The palm of victory seems, however, to lie with the boy Emperor. Both Dion and Herodian tell us of his bravery and the mighty fury which (like a divine inspiration) breathed from him, when, sword in hand, he galloped through the failing ranks and cut down all those who showed an inclination to turn from the fight. It was a good beginning, and shows that the boy was not entirely what his biographers have painted him — the craven, miserable, religious sensualist known to common report. He showed in this battle that he could glory in his manhood, could forget that salvation was by faith and prayer alone ; could forget that only the Gods can settle the great issues. It was thus that Antonine carried his successful arms right into the opposing camp, hoping to find the Moor ; but to the disgust of all that host, the Emperor had vanished ; being tired, he had gone home. His Praetorians had sought for some time for the ensigns that announced the presence of the Emperor, but they had sought in vain, and deserters had told Antonine the story.
Antonine now made a proposition to the opposing host, namely, that they should turn and become his guards, should retain the privileges granted by Caracalla, and above all, should fight no more for the craven. Nothing loath, they did as they were bidden, and by nightfall on 8th June 218 the proclaimed Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was the acknowledged head of the greater part of the army, and ruler of the Roman world which acknowledged Antioch as its capital. Maesa's bold attempt had succeeded beyond all her hopes. The one source of trouble was that Macrinus was still at large.
The Antonine policy had never been that of Macrinus. They had always eradicated the source of their offence as far as they were able, and to that end Marcus Aurelius sent messengers to take the ex- Emperor's person. From the battle-field that caitiff had gone, first to Antioch, sending heralds on ahead to announce their master's victory and the destruction of the Antonine host, lest the populace should seize the city for Antonine and kill him, or, as Xiphilinus puts it, in order to induce them to receive him into their city at all. Had there been time, we might have had another medal, in correspondence with the Parthian fraud, announcing the victory of Macrinus at Immae ; but stragglers began to come in, and with them the news that Antonine would arrive shortly at the head of the whole army, an announcement which caused bloodshed and strife in the city, and decided Macrinus to reconstruct his plans. He would not stay, he decided, where he was not wanted ; he would make his way to Rome, in the hope that his kindness to the Senate would at least secure them as a bodyguard — though what use some 600 portly and middle-aged gentlemen were going to be to him against the legions of a military empire was a question that had not yet occurred to his distracted mind ; but at any rate Antioch was no place for him or his son. The latter he entrusted to Epagathos, one of the few men on whom he could rely, with orders to take him to the King of Parthia for safe keeping ; whilst he himself, having cut off his hair and beard, and laid aside the purple and imperial ornaments for his successor's use, set out for the capital city by the route used for the ordinary post. It is a most significant fact that this man, the acknowledged Emperor, should on the very day of the battle itself have distrusted all his own lieutenants, governors, and civil officials to such an extent that he felt the only safe mode of progress was, disguised as a countryman, to travel by the public carriage. It presupposes that by this time all men were merely waiting for his fall, which was anticipated everywhere as a foregone conclusion, the inevitable result of a weak usurper's unsuccessful attempt.
It is incredible that all the government servants and other accredited agents of Macrinus would have dared to give credit immediately to the ambassadors of an unknown pretender, and only in Alexandria (where the name of Antonine had acquired an unenviable notoriety and there was a personal friend of Macrinus as governor) were Antonine's ambassadors put to death as upstart traitors. True, there have been fugitive kings before and since, but never after one battle and to make way for an utterly unknown child, who by some miracle has got the whole functionaries of imperial government, both civil and military, into his own hands in less than a couple of hours, without even the use of the field telegraph.
From Antioch, Macrinus went on horseback to Aegae in Cilicia, and thence by the public post through Cappadocia, Galatia, and Bithynia, with great expedition, giving out that he was a messenger from the Emperor Macrinus. He intended to cross into Europe by way of Eribolus, and thus to avoid Nicomedia, where the Governor Caecilius Aristo was seeking his life to take it from him, in favour of the new Emperor. The distance that Macrinus travelled was, so we learn from the Itinera Hicrosolymitana, 750 Roman miles, covering in his haste, so Friedlander thinks, about 130 Roman miles per diem, which would bring him to Eribolus (barring accidents, of course) about 15th June. Thence, we are told, he took shipping and attempted to reach Byzantium ; but the battle was not to the strong ; the attempt was rendered abortive by the avenging deity in the shape of a great north-west wind, which threw him back upon the coast near Chalcedon. There the well-informed agents of the Emperor Antoninus came up with him, and discovered his whereabouts by means of Macrinus' imperial procurator, to whom, being short of funds, the Moor had foolishly sent in his extremity.
The discovery was tragic ; the lord of the world, the man whose sceptre threatened the Gods and commanded the sun, was discovered by his pursuers hidden in a small house on the outskirts of Chalcedon, trembling with a fever and fright, brought on by the fatigues and emotions of his hurried journey. He was promptly put into a chariot and taken back towards Antioch by his captor Aurelius Celsus. By the time the party reached Cappadocia news was brought that Epagathos had failed in his mission, and that Diadumenianus was killed, which so utterly upset the poor gentleman that he deliberately threw himself from his chariot, in the hope of ending his disappointed existence and escaping a worse fate. In so doing he broke his collar-bone instead of his neck. There was certainly no luck for Macrinus till he reached Archelais, about 75 miles from the frontier of Cappadocia, when, presumably acting under fresh orders, the Centurion ordered him to be put to death, a merciful release from the sufferings which his stupidity and incapacity had brought upon him. The date is not known, though it was in all probability some time before the end of the month of June. Dion allots fourteen months less three days to his tenure of power, counting to the day of the battle.
As far as we know, he left neither friends, enemies, monuments (except the arch at Tana in Algeria, erected by his compatriots), children, nor evils to live after him. Certainly he meant well, and acted in a manner more futile and less imperial than any of his predecessors. There was no attempt of any sort made to revive his memory; no resuscitation of any party in favour of his rule ; no enthusiasm or even loyalty betrayed towards him from the moment that Antonine claimed the throne. Antonine's campaign, on the contrary, was one triumphal procession, feebly resisted by a counter-march on the part of the reigning Emperor; after which time, and without even waiting to hear of their Emperor's death or abdication, the whole governmental world settles down without the least suspicion of disloyalty under the headship of Antonine. Nothing is disorganised. In less than half a day everything is absolutely at his disposal throughout the empire, and no further question is asked as to where the late Emperor may be. Travel quickly as he will, Macrinus was not able to take from men's minds what must have been a foregone conclusion, namely, that he was doomed, and another was reigning in his stead. It was an obvious case of a usurper about whom no one cares sufficiently to make further inquiries.
The Roman world had wearied of Macrinus and his pretensions, just as it had wearied of Claudius ; both were fantastic, vacillating, abstracted, and cowardly tyrants, declaring themselves to be of the opinion of those who were right, and announcing that they would give judgment in favour of those whose reasons appeared the best. Slipshod and tattered they both went through life ; Emperors whom no one obeyed and at whom every one jeered ; men who, when they heard that conspirators were abroad, were not indignant, but merely frightened. Perhaps it was the purple which had driven so many Emperors mad, that made Macrinus an idiot ; certainly he acted like one, and made way for yet another Phaeton for the universe : a prince for whose sovereignty the world was too small, as Tiberius had remarked of his nephew Caius, nicknamed Caligula, the man without whom neither Nero, Domitian, Commodus, Caracalla, or Elagabalus could have existed. The lives of all are horrible, yet analyse the horrible and you find the sublime. The valleys have their imbeciles, from the mountains poets and madmen come. Elagabalus was both, sceptred at that, and with a sceptre that could lash the earth, threaten the sky, beckon planets, and ravish the divinity of the divine.