The painting depicts a (probably invented) episode in the life of the Roman emperor Elagabalus, also known as Heliogabalus (204??22), taken from the Augustan History. It shows a group of Roman diners at a banquet, being swamped by drifts of pink rose petals falling from a false ceiling above. The youthful Roman emperor Elagabalus, wearing a golden silk robe and tiara, watches the spectacle from a platform behind them with other garlanded guests. A woman plays the double pipes beside a marble pillar in the background, wearing the leopard skin of a maenad, with a bronze statue of Dionysus in front of a view of distant hills.
Although the Latin refers to ''violets and other flowers'', Alma-Tadema depicts Elagabalus smothering his unsuspecting guests with rose petals released from a false ceiling. The original reference is this: In a banqueting-room with a reversible ceiling he once buried his guests in violets and other flowers, so that some were actually smothered to death, being unable to crawl out to the top.
The painting was commissioned by Sir John Aird, 1st Baronet for ?4,000 in 1888.