Eleanor Iselin Ain’t Got Nothin’ on These Political Moms

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But moooooooom, I don't wanna be emperor!

Emperor Caracalla was a rather unpleasant fellow, and a worse administrator.  So, few mourned when, in 217 A.D., an assassin hired by his right-hand man Opilius Macrinus stabbed Caracalla to death while the emperor was answering a call of nature by the side of the road.  Macrinus was declared emperor by the army but was not destined to wear the purple for long. 

Macrinus made the mistake of trying to reform the army’s payment system, which was bankrupting the empire.  The army, by this time, was pretty much the sole determinant of who was declared emperor and how long he might reign, and their allegiance required ever-more-generous pay and special bonuses (“donatives”) on any and every conceivable occasion-A practice embraced by Caracalla who, for all his tyrannical tendencies, knew on which side his bread was buttered!  Under Macrinus’ reign, the army found itself pining for the generosity of Caracalla, and things were ripe for another contender to seize the imperial throne. 

That contender came from a trio of mothers connected to the old Caracalla imperial household: Julia Maesa, a native of Asia Minor (where the imperial household was located for much of Caracalla’s reign) who was the sister-in-law of the assassinated Caracalla, and her daughters Soaemias and Mamea.  Soaemias had a son, Bassianus, who was a high priest of a local (non-Roman) pagan sun-worshipping religion, and who, by all accounts, wanted nothing more out of life than to wear his priestly robes and make sacrifices to El-Gabal, his sun god.  But the moms in his family had other plans, aided by a fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your perspective) physical resemblance between Bassianus and Caracalla.  No matter that Bassianus was not a blood relation of Caracalla…Julia Maesa and her daughters took care of that small problem by spreading the rumor that he was in fact the unacknowledged out-of-wedlock son of the late emperor and Soaemias, i.e. that Caracalla had fathered a child with his own niece.  The army, their affections lubricated by promises of huge “donatives” should Bassianus acceded as emperor, embraced the sun-worshipping priest and gave Rome its first Middle Eastern-born emperor.  After a brief military confrontation with a few loyal holdouts to Macrinus, the Senate in Rome made it official and “Elagabalus”, as Bassianus came to be known (after El-Gabal), spent the rest of his life trying (unsuccessfully) to get the entire Roman world to embrace his sun-religion.  The poor guy probably would have rather stayed in his temple.

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One Response to “Eleanor Iselin Ain’t Got Nothin’ on These Political Moms”

  1. Scrabble Girl Says:

    Looking for new words – have you stopped reading?

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