This painting was inspired by Heliogabalus (or Elagabalus)
a Roman emperor of the 3rd century. Most decadent of all
the emperors (seen in copper silk), legend has it that he once
staged an orgy in which the participants were smothered to
death in a cascade of rose petals. This painting depicts the
decorously garbed women, floundering in the petals while
the emperor dispassionately toasts their fate.
Alma-Tadema had fresh roses brought in from France every
week so that every one of the (more than 2,000) petals
could be accurately depicted.