Ancient Coins – Julia Paula, First Wife Of Elagabalus
By Lorie Ann Hambly – Heritage Classical Coin News
The sweet and seemingly innocent young lady depicted on this coin played a not-inconsequential role in the most bizarre reign in Roman history. The daughter of Rome’s Praetorian prefect, Julia Cornelia Paula was betrothed and married to the newly installed emperor Elagabalus in the summer of AD 219.
The marriage was arranged by the emperor’s powerful grandmother, Julia Maesa, who wished to make the reign of a 15-year-old Syrian youth of ambiguous sexuality palatable to the Roman populace. The wedding was accompanied by extravagant public spectacles and Julia Paula was immediately granted the title of Augusta, or empress, making her one of three women bearing the title in the female-dominated regime, the other two being Julia Maesa and the emperor’s mother, Julia Soaemias (who also has a coin in this week’s auction).
But the marriage soon foundered as Elagabalus found his new bride’s sexual mores too conventional for his liking. Elagabalus, you see, was a cross-dressing, sun-worshipping exotic dancer who chose his counselors based on the size of their, um, male sexual equipment. He took little interest in actual governing, leaving this to his ferocious grandmother.
Julia Paula, to all appearances, was a very traditional Roman virgin from a good family; nothing could be more dull to a young man of Elagabalus‘ tastes. He summarily divorced her late in AD 220 or early in 221, only to turn around and marry the Vestal Virgin Aquilia Severa, a move which scandalized the Roman world all the more.
Elagabalus would also divorce Aquilia Severa a few months later and take one more crack at conventional matrimony with Annia Faustina, a descendant of Marcus Aurelius. This match also foundered quickly and the never-satisfied emperor returned briefly to Aquilia Severa before being murdered by the Praetorians and dumped into a latrine, along with his mother, on March 11, AD 222.
His replacement, the docile and conventional Severus Alexander, was no happier on the matrimonial front, but that is another story…