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: While searching on Sumana's behalf for this Atlantic article on Saddam Hussein, I discovered The Life of Antonius Heliogabalus, an account of the excesses of one of the later Roman emperors. He's one of the ones who comes in around the time the author of the history of Rome is getting really tired of writing a history of Rome, and just wants to get it over with so they can write the chapter about The Continuing Roman Influence and have a beer.

As such, Heliogabalus usually rates a mere mention in a list of bad emperors, and it's not generally known (or was not least to me) the virtuoso and inventive ways in which he expressed his total insuitability for power (though I'm not convinced he was much worse than your average bad Roman emperor in this regard). The Life is chock-full of interesting anecdotes, of which my favorite is this one, near the end:

The prophecy had been made to him by some Syrian priests that he would die a violent death. And so he had prepared cords entwined with purple and scarlet silk, in order that, if need arose, he could put an end to his life by the noose. He had gold swords, too, in readiness, with which to stab himself, should any violence impend. He also had poisons ready, in ceraunites and sapphires and emeralds, with which to kill himself if destruction threatened. And he also built a very high tower from which to throw himself down, constructed of boards gilded and jeweled in his own presence, for even his death, he declared, should be costly and marked by luxury.


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