This earthy and vivid novel traces the life of Varius Avitus Bassianus, the cousin - according to rumours the son - of the Emperor Caracalla and himself destined to become the Emperor Antoninus. The strange education he received from his power loving female relatives turned his erotic tastes into unusual channels. He was imitated into the priesthood of the Syrian Sun God Elah-ga-baal, whose orgiastic rites satisfied his perverted desires but horrified even the most degenerate voluptuaries of ancient Rome. He was petulant and cruel, but could show extravagant generosity - especially to the young men who became his favourites. Among these was an ex charioteer Hieracles, with whom he went through a bizarre 'marriage' and who was finally murdered with him by the discontented Praetorians.
The licentioius life of Rome with its priests, vestal virgins, strange rituals and decadent Court makes atmospheric and exciting reading, which rivals the graphic accounts by Petronious and Suetonius in their Satyricon and lives of the Caesars.