Elagabalus will reportedly be referred to as ‘she’, as a classical author claims he asked a lover to call him a lady
The North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin, England, has announced that the Roman emperor Elagabalus, who ruled Rome from AD 218 until his assassination at the age of 18 in 222, was transgender, the Telegraph reported Monday.
Elagabalus reportedly was given female pronouns based on texts by Cassius Dio, a Roman chronicler who claimed the emperor asked a lover to call him “lady” and used to cross-dress and wear makeup.
According to the historian, the emperor was “termed wife, mistress and queen,” and once told a lover “call me not Lord, for I am a Lady.” The chronicler also wrote that Elagabalus allegedly asked doctors to perform a kind of sex-change operation on him, promising them large sums of money for it.
The museum has a coin minted during the reign of Elagabalus that has been used in LGBTQ-themed exhibitions, and has consulted with the LGBTQ charity Stonewall and the LGBTQ wing of the trade union Unison to ensure that “displays, publicity and talks are as up-to-date and inclusive as possible,” according to The Telegraph.
Commenting on the subject, Keith Hoskins, a Liberal Democrat councilor and executive member for arts at North Herts Council, told the paper that “Elagabalus most definitely preferred the she pronoun, and as such this is something we reflect when discussing her in contemporary times.”
At the same time, some historians have expressed doubts about the credibility of Cassius Dio’s claims, as he served the emperor Severus Alexander, who succeeded Elagabalus.
As an example, the outlet cited the opinion of Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, professor of classics at Cambridge, who said that the Romans “used accusations of sexual behaviour ‘as a woman’ as one of the worst insults against men.” He also noted that since Elagabalus was of Syrian origin and not a Roman, “there’s racial prejudice going on there too.”
Little evidence of Elagabalus’ reign has been preserved aside from the works of Cassius, although the chronicler himself admitted that he spent most of the relevant period outside of Rome and had to rely on second-hand information.
Another contemporary, Herodianus, also chronicled the emperor’s short-lived reign, but is said to be less biased. His writings have been corroborated by numismatists and archaeologists.
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