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Elagabalus and Buddha: Religion and Performance in the Global 3rd Century CE with Yanxiao He

January 9 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Royce Hall 306, 10745 Dickson Court
Los Angeles, California 90095
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Elagablus and Buddha:

Religion and Performance in the Global 3rd Century CE

A Lecture by Dr. Yanxiao He

Tuesday, January 9 | Royce 306

Global Antiquity and the UCLA Center for Buddhist Studies invite you to a lecture on the intersection of Roman Mediterranean performance traditions with religious cults and propaganda during the 3rd century CE in the context of the global dissemination of Roman performance. It presents two case studies: 1.) the utilization of Roman entertainment, including pantomime, in the dissemination of Syrian-Phoenician religions from Emesa by Emperor Elagabalus (204-222), the first Roman emperor of Syrian descent; 2.) the use of imagery depicting Roman Mediterranean performers, accessed by Chinese intellectuals and officials in 120/1 CE, to portray the image of Buddha.

To support the first point, this paper relies primarily on the account of Elagabalus by the 3rd-century author Herodian, which contains rich references to Elagabalus’ engagement with Roman performance. These references are complemented by relevant numismatic and archaeological evidence, demonstrating that Roman performance served as a crucial vehicle for Elagabalus to promote the Emesan cult of the sun from his hometown and bolster his legitimacy. For the second point, the paper analyzes the portrayal of Buddha’s power in Lihuolun (A Treatise Dissipating Confusions), the earliest surviving indigenous Chinese Buddhist document from the 3rd century CE. This analysis is conducted in the context of the presentation of Roman performers at the imperial Chinese New Year banquet in 121 CE and the intellectual controversies it generated. Additionally, sources with Taoist backgrounds, such as Yu Huan’s Weilue (A Sketch of Wei) and Liezi, provide further corroboration for these discussions, particularly when the image of Rome comes into focus.

By examining these two case studies, this paper illustrates how Roman performance interacted with different religious traditions as it expanded globally. It also highlights our approach to understanding the concept of global antiquity.

About the Speaker

Yanxiao He (he/him) recently finished his PhD in ancient history from the University of Chicago. He is now the Shuimu Postdoc Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Humanities at Tsinghua University, Beijing. His major research interests include: the Hellenistic and Roman East, Greco-Roman performance studies, the Silk Road Studies, and classical receptions in East Asian media. He is currently working on two book projects, one is tentatively titled Post-Hellenistic Asia and Common Ethnographic Knowledge in Rome and China: Theatricality, Historiography, and Exoticism, which is based on his dissertation, and the other is tentatively titled Classical K-pop: Chorus Dance, Political Economy, and Greco-Roman Receptions on Social Media Screen, which is based on his existing case studies on Greco-Roman receptions in K-pop. He won the 2021 Erich S. Gruen Prize from the Society for Classical Studies and was awarded an honorable mention for the 2021 John J. Winkler Memorial Prize.


January 9
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


Global Antiquity
UCLA Center for Buddhist Studies


Royce Hall 306
10745 Dickson Court
Los Angeles, California 90095
+ Google Map