The Roses of Heliogabalus

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The Roses of Heliogabalus by Alma-Tadema (1888), oil on canvas.

The Roses of Heliogabalus is a famous painting of 1888 by the Anglo-Dutch academician Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, at present in private hands. It is based on a probably invented episode in the life of the Roman emperor Elagabalus, also known as Heliogabalus, (204–222), taken from the Augustan History. Although the Latin refers to "violets and other flowers", Alma-Tadema depicts Elagabalus attempting[citation needed] to smother his unsuspecting guests in rose-petals released from false ceiling panels. The original reference is this:

Oppressit in tricliniis versatilibus parasitos suos violis et floribus, sic ut animam aliqui efflaverint, cum erepere ad summum non possent.[1]
In a banqueting-room with a reversible ceiling he once buried his parasites in violets and other flowers, so that some were actually smothered to death, being unable to crawl out to the top.[2]

In his notes to the Augustan History, Thayer notes that "Nero did this also (Suetonius, Nero, xxxi), and a similar ceiling in the house of Trimalchio is described in Petronius, Sat., lx." (Satyricon).[3]


  1. ^ Historia Augusta, Antoninus Heliogabalus*.html
  2. ^ Augustan History, Life of Elagabalus 21
  3. ^ Note by Thayer to Augustan History, Life of Elagabalus Note 84

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