S EVERUS was succeeded by his two sons Geta and Caracalla. Geta, the younger, was in his brother's way, and to get rid of him this monster pursued and murdered him in his mother's arms. Having thus become sole master of the empire, Caracalla surpassed all those who came before him in cruelty and vice.
He was so suspicious that he is said to have murdered twenty thousand persons, simply because he fancied that they were opposed to him. Then, too, hearing that the people at Alexandria had ventured to make jokes about him, he had all the inhabitants put to the sword, without any regard for either age or sex.
Caracalla visited all the different parts of his realm, merely for the sake of plundering his subjects. Part of the money he spent in building some famous public baths at Rome; but he committed so many crimes that the people all hated him. Macrinus, the commander of the pretorian guard, finally murdered and succeeded him; but his reign was soon brought to an end, too, by the election of Heliogabalus by the Syrian troops.
Baths of Caracalla.
Although the new emperor was only fourteen years of age, he had already acted as high priest of the Syrian god Elagabalus, whose Greek name he had taken as his own. The beauty of Heliogabalus was remarkable, and he delighted in wearing magnificent robes, and in taking part in imposing ceremonies.
He is noted in history chiefly for his folly and his vices, and is said to have married and divorced six wives before he was eighteen years old. Elagabalus was made the principal god in Rome, and the emperor, we are told, offered human sacrifices to this idol in secret, and danced before it in public.
Either to make fun of the senators, or to satisfy a fancy of his mother and grandmother, Heliogabalus made a senate for women. His mother was made chief of the new assembly, and presided at every meeting with much pomp and gravity.
Even the Romans were shocked by the emperor's conduct, so the soldiers soon rose up against him. Bursting into the palace one day, they dragged Heliogabalus from the closet where he was hiding, killed him and his mother, and scornfully flung their bodies into the Tiber.
As soon as the soldiers had murdered the emperor, they proceeded to elect his cousin Alexander, who proved a great contrast to him in every way. Both of these young men belonged to the family of Severus; but, while Heliogabalus was ignorant and vicious, Alexander was both wise and good.
Unfortunately, however, he was not intended for the ruler of so restive a people as the Romans. Although he shone as a painter, sculptor, poet, mathematician, and musician, he had no military talents at all.
During his reign, the barbarians came pouring over the Rhine, and threatened to overrun all Gaul. Alexander marched against them in person, for he was no coward; but he was slain by his own soldiers during a mutiny. The trouble is said to have been caused by Maximinus, who became Alexander's successor, and hence the twenty-fifth emperor of Rome.