'Sidebottom brings [Heliogabalus] vividly back to life. His prose feels vibrant and effortless but also rewards close reading.'
The Mad Emperor
Heliogabalus and the Decadence of RomeHarry Sidebottom
‘Buy the book; it’s very entertaining.’ David Aaronovitch, The Times
A Financial Times, BBC History and Spectator Book of the Year
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.
‘A scholarly but highly readable account of the teenager who became classical Rome’s most reviled emperor, but who may be viewed with a touch more sympathy now.’
‘A riveting and rollicking account of a much maligned but truly thrilling era in Roman history.’
'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.'
'An absolute belter'
‘[An] energetic and vivid history’
‘Such material certainly lends itself to Sidebottom’s boisterous, novelistic prose style… Sidebottom’s deep knowledge of the Eastern Empire and its structures is undeniable.’
‘A vibrant and decadent account.’
'Harry Sidebottom skilfully juggles what to believe and what not to believe… The racy story is told with the vivid phrasing and descriptive powers of an accomplished novelist… supported by a rich back story and a fascinating discussion of his legacy… a well-illustrated and absorbing read.'
‘The Mad Emperor recreates the Ancient World with the eye of a poet and the sure hand of a scholar.’
'We are used to being told that the historical truth is less exciting than the myth. But, as Harry Sidebottom’s The Mad Emperor demonstrates, this is one of those rare cases when the history does not fall short. While working hard to correct the preconceptions of both scholars and general readers, Sidebottom presents a picture of third-century imperial Rome that is, if anything, wilder than the popular imagination.'
‘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.’