Elagabalus was born Varius Avitus Bassianus in AD 203 or 204 at Emesa in Syria.
He was the son of the Syrian Sextus Varius Marcellus, who had become senator during the reign of Caracalla and Julia Soaemias.
The ascension to the throne by Elgabalus was entirely due to his grandmother's will to see the downfall of Macrinus. Julia Maesa clearly held emperor Macrinus responsible for her sister's death and now sought revenge.
Then, on the night of 15 May AD 218, the fateful moment arrived for Julia Maesa to let her plot unfold. Elagabalus, who was only fourteen years old, was secretly taken to the camp of the Legio III 'Gallica' at Raphaneae and at the dawn of 16 May AD 218 he was presented to the troops by their commander Publius Valerius Comazon.
Remarkably, it was now Gannys who assumed command of the army which marched against Macrinus. As he advanced, his forces gathered strength, with more and more units of Macrinus' changing sides. Finally, on 8 June AD 218 the two forces met outside Antioch. Gannys was victorious and Macrinus was executed shortly after and Elagabalus was thereafter recognized as ruler throughout the empire.
Already before the imperial entourage reached Rome things began to sour. The very unit which had first bestowed imperial honours on Elagabalus, revolted and instead proclaimed its new commander Verus emperor (AD 218). However, the revolt was quickly suppressed.
The arrival of the new emperor and his two empresses at Rome in the autumn of AD 219 left the entire capital aghast. Among his imperial entourage Elagabalus had brought with him many low-born Syrians, who were now granted positions in high office. Foremost among these Syrians was the very commander who had proclaimed Elagabalus emperor at Raphaneae, Publius Valerius Comazon. He was given the post of Praetorian prefect (and later city prefect of Rome) and became the most influential figure in government, aside from Julia Maesa.
Having got off to such a bad start, the new emperor desperately needed to somehow improve his standing in the eyes of his Roman subjects. And so, already in AD 219 his grandmother organized a marriage between him and Julia Cornelia Paula, a lady of noble birth.
Any attempts to enhance Elagabalus' standing with this marriage were however soon undone, by the ardour with which he undertook the worship of his god El-Gabal. Cattle and sheep were sacrificed in great numbers every day at dawn. High ranking Romans, even senators, had to attend these rites.
In AD 220 the emperor's plans became known, that he intended to make his god El-Gabal the first and foremost god (and master of all other gods!) of the Roman state cult. As if this was not enough, it was also decided that El-Gabal was to marry. In order to achieve symbolical step, Elagabalus had the ancient statue of Minerva from the Temple of Vesta taken to the Elagaballium where it was to be married to the Black Stone. As part of this marriage of gods, Elagabalus also divorced his wife and married one of the Vestal Virgins, Julia Aquilia Severa (AD 220).
Had in earlier days sexual relations with a Vestal Virgins meant the immediate death penalty for both her and her lover, then this marriage of the emperor only further enraged public opinion.
If he had married the Vestal Severa in AD 220, then he already divorced her again in AD 221. In July of that year he married Annia Faustina, who had among her ancestors no lesser than emperor Marcus Aurelius. More alarmingly though her husband had only been executed on Elagabalus' orders a short while before the marriage. This marriage although was only to last a very brief time, before Elagabalus abandoned it and instead declared he had never truly divorced Aquilia Severa and instead lived with her again.
The Ellagabalium was not sufficient for the glory of El-Gabal, the emperor appears to have decided at some point. And so a huge temple of the sun was built outside Rome, where to the black stone was taken each year at midsummer in a triumphal procession. The emperor himself running backwards ahead of the chariot, whilst holding the reigns of the six white horses which pulled it, thereby fulfilling his duty never to turn his back on his god.
Though Elagabalus should not only achieve notoriety with his religious fanaticism. He should also shock Roman society with his sexual practices.
It was perhaps little surprising that within the ranks of the army Elagabalus did not carry undivided support. Had the revolt of the III 'Gallica' in Syria been an early warning, then since there had been revolts by the fourth legion, parts of the fleet, and a certain Seleucius.
Such sexual antics, combined with his religious activities, made Elagabalus an ever more unbearable emperor for the Roman state. Julia Maesa alas decided that the young emperor and his mother Julia Soaemias, who increasingly encouraged his religious fervour, were truly out of control and would have to go. And so she turned to her younger daughter Julia Avita Mamaea, who had a thirteen year old son, Alexianus.
The two women managed to persuade Elagabalus to adopt Alexianus as Caesar and heir. They explained to him that this would allow him to spend more time with his religious duties, while Alexianus would take care of other ceremonial obligations. And so Alexianus was adopted as Caesar under the name of Alexander Severus.
The black stone of god El-Gabal was sent back to its true home at the city of Emesa.