three pairs of lovers with space

THE AUGUSTAN HISTORY: ALEXANDER SEVERUS TO CARINUS, AD 222-285

 

The Augustan History is a collection of biographies in Latin of the Roman emperors (Augusti), including those only ever recognised in the provinces, and their junior partners titled Caesars, who reigned between 117 and 285.

The lives are presented as written by six different authors. The two under consideration here for their Greek love content are ascribed to Aelius Lampridius and Flavius Vopiscus. Lampridius sometimes addresses the emperor Constantine I, implying that he was writing between 306 and 337. Vopiscus alludes to Constantius “Chlorus” being emperor, implying that he was writing in 305-6. However, allusions made in various of the lives suggest they cannot have taken their present form until up to a century later, and authorship of them all is considered doubtful.

The translation is by David Magie in the Loeb Classical Library volumes CXL and CCLXIII (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1924 and 1932) with a few amendments for which  explanatory footnotes are given.

 

XVIII. Alexander Severus by Aelius Lampridius

Caesar Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander Augustus (208-35) became emperor on the murder of his cousin the man-loving boy emperor Antoninus “Elagabalus” in 222. Some of his speeches are quoted, from which it is clear that, in much of what he did, he was reacting against the “filthiness” of his predecessor.

24 iii-v

Describing the reforms of Alexander Severus, many of them of a puritanical character:

He ordered that the taxes imposed on procurers, harlots, and male prostitutes[1] should not be deposited in the public treasury, but utilized them to meet the state’s expenditures for the restoration of the theatre, the Circus, the Amphitheatre, and the Stadium. In fact, he had it in mind to prohibit male prostitutes [repeat previous footnote] altogether—which was afterwards done by Philip[2]—but he feared that such a prohibition would merely convert an evil recognized by the state into a vice practised in private—for men when driven on by passion are more apt to demand a vice which is prohibited.
Aureus of Severus Alexander
lenonum vectigal et meretricum et exsoletorum in sacrum aerarium inferri vetuit, sed sumptibus publicis ad instaurationem theatri, Circi, Amphitheatri, Stadii deputavit. habuit in animo ut exsoletos vetaret, quod postea Philippus fecit, sed veritus est ne prohibens publicum dedecus in privatas cupiditates converteret, cum homines inlicita magis prohibita poscant furore iactati.
A youthful Severus Alexander

 34 ii-iv

All the dwarfs, both male and female, fools, male prostitutes[1] who had good voices, all kinds of entertainers at table, and actors of pantomimes he made public property; those, however, who were not of any use were assigned, each to a different town, for support, in order that no one town might be burdened by a new kind of beggars. […] Women of ill repute, of whom he arrested an enormous number, he ordered to become public prostitutes, and he deported all male prostitutes[1], some of them, with whom that scourge had carried on a most pernicious intimacy, being drowned by shipwreck. Nanos et nanas et moriones et vocales exsoletos et omnia acroamata et pantomimos populo donavit; qui autem usui non erant singulis civitatibus putavit alendos singulos, ne gravarentur specie mendicorum. […] mulieres infames, quarum infinitum numerum deprehenderat, publicari iussit, exsoletis omnibus deportatis, aliquibus etiam naufragio mersis, cum quibus illa clades consuetudinem habuerat funestissimam.

 XXXIX ii

In the enjoyment of love he was temperate, and he would have nothing to do with exsoleti,[3] in fact, he even wished to have a law passed, as I have said before, doing away with them altogether. usus Veneris in eo moderatus fuit, exsoletorum ita expers, ut, quemadmodum supra diximus, legem de his auferendis ferre voluerit. 

 

XXX. Carus, Carinus and Numerian by Flavius Vopiscus of Syracuse

Carus became emperor in 282. Soon afterwards he made his sons Carinus (died 285) and Numerian Caesars and left the former to rule Rome while he went to fight Persia. He died the next year, when they succeeded him.

16 i

Describing the behaviour of Carinus, apparently particularly in 282-3, while he was ruling Rome as Caesar.

He was the most polluted of men, an adulterer and a constant corrupter of youth (I am ashamed to relate what Onesimus[4] has put into writing), and he even made evil use of the enjoyment of his own sex.
Aureus of Carinus as Caesar, 282
superest nobis Carinus, homo omnium contaminatissimus, adulter, frequens corruptor iuventutis (pudet dicere quod in litteras Onesimus rettulit), ipse quoque male usus genio sexus sui.
Carinus (La Centrale Montemartini)

 

[1] Magie here translates “exsoleti” in its various cases as “catamites”, but though this was one possible meaning of the word, which denotes anyone worn out in a habitual male homosexual role, it is clear from the mention of taxes that the more common meaning of “male prostitute” is here intended and has accordingly been adopted instead. As will be evident from the general tenor of Roman sources quoted on this website, male prostitutes were normally boys.

[2] See c. xxxix. 2; Heliog., xxxii. 6 [refers to the emperor Philip’s prohibition of boy prostitution implied in Augustan History XVII 32 vi]. [Translator’s note]

[3] “Catamites” is yet again Magie’s translation of “exsoleti”, but this time justified as the most credible of its possible meanings, since an emperor was more likely to resort to catamites than to prostitutes. Nevertheless, the “as I have said before” clearly refers to exsoleti in their other sense, the Latin taking in both meanings. “Exsoleti” has therefore been retained here in preference to “catamites” as the only way to preserve the (in English) dual original meaning.

Much more importantly for the purpose of understanding Roman assumptions about Greek love, note that it was on the grounds of temperance, rather than preference, that Severus Alexander was assumed to abstain from sex with boys.

[4] Onesimus was the author of a life of Probus, emperor immediately before Carinus’s father.