8. The Teenage Emperor’s Trolling Finally Got Him Killed
In the eyes of contemporary Romans, the greatest scandal of Elagabalus’ reign was probably his flamboyant homosexuality. He openly went about in women’s clothing, and publicly fawned upon male lovers, whom he elevated to high positions. They included an athlete who was given a powerful position at court, and a charioteer whom he sought to declare as Caesar. He also reportedly prostituted himself in the imperial palace. Respected emperors such as Trajan and Hadrian had male sexual partners, and Hadrian had even created a religious cult for a youthful male lover who had accidentally drowned.
However, Elagabalus was the passive, or receptive partner in homosexual acts: a Roman emperor who was a top was acceptable, but a bottom was not. It all came to a head on March 11, 222, when soldiers in a military parade showed their contempt by cheering Elagabalus’ cousin, while ignoring the emperor. He ordered the arrest and execution of the insubordinate soldiers. Instead, his bodyguards turned around and attacked him and his mother, hacking them to pieces. Their heads were chopped off, and Elagabalus’ corpse was dragged around Rome, before it was unceremoniously tossed into the Tiber River.