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The Emperor Elagabalus: Fact or Fiction? 1st Edition

4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521895552
ISBN-10: 0521895553
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Editorial Reviews

Book Description

The third-century Roman emperor miscalled Elagabalus was made into myth shortly after his death. This book examines the whole range of sources (historiography, coins, inscriptions, papyri, sculpture and topography) distinguishing the character of fact from the creature of fiction. Thus it provides a more secure basis for reassessing his reign.

About the Author

Leonardo de Arrizabalaga y Prado graduated from Cambridge University, and taught at Tsukuba University, Japan. He has published many articles on the Roman emperor commonly but wrongly known as Elagabalus.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 420 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (July 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521895553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521895552
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,065,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By James B. Casey on January 6, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is not your typical biography, but a detailed, well researched scholarly resource that surpasses many of the previous attempts to get at the reality behind the colorful legends and exaggerations. As collector interested in the coinage of the third century A.D., I was extremely pleased to see many fascinating illustrations of coins and medallions of the reign, including some that had I had not seen in other major numismatic reference books. It is unfortunate that closer dating and arrangement of the coins illustrated wasn't attempted since most of the coins and medallions are either precisely dated with TRP and COS designations or obvious by virtue of portraiture development and reverse themes. With expert numismatists like Curtis Clay available, this could have been accomplished and the extremely valuable numismatic evidence used to supplement or refute the supposedly flawed ancient historical accounts. --- Nevertheless, I find the book to be extremely helpful and the kind of resource I will be likely go back to for numismatic research purposes in the future. Fortunately, the coinage for the brief 3.5 year reign of Elagabalus is extremely numerous and indicative of the lavish expenditures of this ruler even compared to the already extravagant Caracalla.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Arch Stanton on February 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is kind of a complicated review. The title alone is deceptive for two reasons. First, the author refuses to call him Elagabalus since, like Caligula, he wasn't really known by that name except in literature. Instead he calls him Varius. Second, it's not a biography in any sense of the word. In fact, this isn't really a history book at all. This is about historiography and how his model of it can be applied to such a figure as Elagabalus.

Prado believes that classical historians are far too lax with regards to the truth. To his mind most of what he reads is lies, or unsupported facts which he views as much the same thing. He considers history the noblest of fields because it alone deals solely in fact. Science uses facts to produce results, and so does math, but only history searches for facts for their own sake. Thus any historian who uses facts incorrectly is corrupting the field. The reliance upon ancient historians is a major mistake because there is no independent confirmation that they're honest. For that reason he never refers to them as 'historians' but as 'historiographers.' This obsession with the truth colors everything he does. Unsubstantiated facts are just beliefs and as he says, "in my view, knowledge makes belief superfluous."

He sees historians as making an unspoken assumption which he calls the Credulous Assumption. This holds that narratives of ancient 'historiography' are to be considered true, unless proven otherwise. I'll grant him that as it is the basic premise of most histories. So now we come to his Skeptical Assumption: No allegation of ancient 'historiography' is to be considered true unless proven. This sounds reasonable enough. As he makes quite clear modern law is based upon the same assumption. But he is describing an ideal situation.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Remus on July 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is not a book I can casually recommend. But it is a superlative work of history, an important book, and possibly even a great book.

At the outset, De Arrizabalaga y Prado tells that he originally wanted to write a historical novel about Elagabalus, but the more he reviewed the sources, the more he distrusted anything they had to say. How, then, to create a narrative about Elagabalus with any integrity?

De Arrizabalaga y Prado decided to examine all the evidence we have about this emperor, subjecting it to a systematic review of his own invention, which owes more to his education in philosophy at Cambridge than to standard historical practice. Thus we have a new, even revolutionary, approach to writing history, which to this lifelong reader and student of history is both refreshing and exciting.

But I suspect the process will not be all that exciting to many readers. If you have no patience with long, detailed, impeccably constructed epistemological arguments, the author's methodology may bore you to tears. After all, you came to this book because you wanted to know more about the most scandalous and sex-mad emperor who ever lived, right? But what if all that scandal is so much smoke and mirrors? The author's examination of the evidence may strike you as dry, but I would call it "astringent"--and an astringent is needed here is wipe clean the endless layers of nonsense and invective that have grown up around Elagabalus beginning immediately after his death and continuing for centuries.
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4 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A. Kalman on August 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Few emperors are known almost exclusively for their peculiarities and perversions, but on the short list of qualified applicants, Elagabalus rises to the top. The 19th Century antiquarian S.W. Stevenson, ever a delight for his artfully delivered comments, did not fail to deliver in his summary of Elagabalus whom he called : "...the most cruel and infamous wretch that ever disgraced humanity and polluted a throne..." Elagabalus and his family had lived in Rome during the reign of Caracalla, who was rumored to have been Elagabalus' natural father. When Caracalla was murdered, his prefect and successor, Macrinus, recalled the family to their homeland of Syria. Upon arriving, Elagabalus assumed his role as hereditary priest of the Emesan sun-god Heliogabalus. For the Roman soldiers in the vicinity, who engaged in the common practice of solar worship, and who had fond memories of the slain Caracalla, Elagabalus was an ideal candidate for emperor. He soon was hailed emperor against Macrinus, who was defeated in a pitched battle just outside Antioch.
Conservative Rome was introduced to their new emperor's eccentricities and religious fervor when they learned of his overland journey from Emesa to Rome, with a sacred "Phallic Shaped" meteorite in tow!
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