The Mad Emperor

Harry Sidebottom


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Oneworld Publications
5 October 2023
ISBN: 9780861546855
352 pages

From the publisher

What happens when you put the Roman Empire in the hands of a teenage boy? Discover the scandalous life and times of Rome’s worst emperor. 

‘Buy the book; it’s very entertaining.’ David Aaronovitch, The Times 

On 8 June 218 AD, a fourteen-year-old Syrian boy, egged on by his grandmother, led an army to battle in a Roman civil war. Against all expectations, he was victorious.

Varius Avitus Bassianus, known to the modern world as Heliogabalus, was proclaimed emperor. The next four years were to be the strangest in the history of the empire.

Heliogabalus humiliated the prestigious Senators and threw extravagant dinner parties for lower-class friends. He ousted Jupiter from his summit among the gods and replaced him with Elagabal. He married a Vestal Virgin – twice. Rumours abounded that he was a prostitute. In the first biography of Heliogabalus in over half a century, Harry Sidebottom unveils the high drama of sex, religion, power and culture in Ancient Rome as we’ve never seen it before.


Financial TimesBBC History and Spectator Book of the Year

‘Combining the pace of a novelist, the training of a scholar and the instincts of a true historian, this is a wonderful exploration of the Roman world under its strangest emperor.’ Adrian Goldsworthy, author of Pax Romana

‘The decadence, debauchery and sexual promiscuity that marked the adolescent’s time on the imperial throne make for a rollicking read.’ Daily Mail

‘Ancient history was never less dry than in Harry Sidebottom’s superbly entertaining and always scholarly account of the reign of Heliogabalus… There is something for every reader: sex, politics, scandals and a compelling portrait of imperial society and culture.’ Financial Times