Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Underground Tomb of the Aureli

However implausible it seems, we should pay attention when the Historiae Augustae tells us that the young emperor Severus Alexander (r. 222-235 CE), always up bright and early, piously went first thing in the morning to “worship in the sanctuary of his Lares [guardian gods] in which he kept the statues of the deified emperors ... and also of certain holy souls, among them Apollonius of Tyana [Pythagorean philosopher and miracle-worker], and, Christ, Abraham, Orpheus, and others of the same character.... (HA XXIX2)”

Jesus Christ!  And Abraham, too!  Next to Orpheus and Apollonius?  Why in heaven's name is a pagan emperor of Rome worshipping such a mixed bag of souls in his private chapel?  Utter nonsense, I would have thought, and typical of the unreliable Historiae Augustae at its most fanciful.
But, then, I had not reckoned with the Underground Tomb of the Aureli.

For no sooner had Alexander Severus -- and his mother, Julia Mamaea -- been murdered by mutinous soldiers far away in upper Germany (that story ends my series of More Uppity Women) than a freedman named Aurelius Felicissimus began to build an elaborate and ambitious tomb for himself (235-240 CE) in Rome.

More at Zenobia