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Imprint: Oneworld Publications

Subject: History

The Mad Emperor

Heliogabalus and the Decadence of Rome

Harry Sidebottom

On 8 June AD218 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.

  • Publication date: October 6, 2022
  • ISBN: 9780861542536
  • RRP: £20.00
  • Pages: 352
  • Publication date: October 6, 2022
  • ISBN: 9780861542543
  • RRP: £10.99
  • Pages: 352


'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.'


The Mad Emperor recreates the Ancient World with the eye of a poet and the sure hand of a scholar.’

Barry Strauss, author of Ten Caesars

‘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.’

Matthew Kneale, author of Rome: A History in Seven Sackings

‘A riveting and rollicking account of a much maligned but truly thrilling era in Roman history.’

Emma Southon, author of A Fatal Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum

'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

Harry Sidebottom

Dr Harry Sidebottom teaches Ancient History at Lincoln College, Oxford. Since publication of Fire in the East in 2008, he has written and published a novel each year, all of which have been Sunday Times top 5 bestsellers. His Warrior of Rome series has been published in 14 countries. Harry is also the editor of the Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Ancient Battles.

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