Lawrence Alma-Tadema: The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888)

(Private collection)

A historical scene by the Anglo-Dutch painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912). Heliogabalus or Elagabalus was a Roman Emperor from 218 to 222. After emperor Caracalla was assassinated in 217, the praetorian prefect Macrinus took the throne. Roman troops in the Est however rose up in revolt and these troops managed to defeat Macrinus at the Battle of Antioch on 8 June 218. Macrinus fled but was captured later and executed. The victorious soldiers proclaimed the 14 year old Elagabalus, rumored to be an illegitimate son of former emperor Caracalla, as the new emperor. The reign of Elagabalus is filled with sexual scandals and religious controversies in the historical documents and a complete disregard for Roman religious traditions. The painting shows a scene from the 'Historia Augusta' (a collection of biographies of Roman Emperors, written in the 4th century) regarding the reign of Elagabalus. According to the book, Elagabalus swamped his guests during a banquet with a large amount of flowers, in such an amount that some of them were smothered to death. Elagabalus is also present on the painting, he is wearing a golden robe and a tiara and is watching the spectacle with other garlanded guests. With his behavior Elagabalus became rapidly very unpopular and he was assassinated on 11 March 222. His cousin Severus Alexander replaced him as emperor. Painting from 1888.