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Museum says Roman emperor was a transgender woman

By NICK GARCIA Published Nov 24, 2023 4:36 pm

A United Kingdom museum has identified Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, a.k.a. Elagabalus, to be a transgender woman.

TIME Magazine reported that according to the North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin town of London, the decision was prompted by classical texts that allege the emperor once saying, “call me not Lord, for I am a Lady.”

Roman historian and administrator Cassisus Dio wrote the words.

The museum also has a coin of Elagabalus in its LGBTQ+ collection, having consulted with the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall to ensure "displays, publicity and talks are as up-to-date and inclusive as possible.”

Moving forward, the museum will refer to Elagabalus with the pronouns she/her.

Keith Hoskins, executive member for Enterprise and Arts at North Herts Council, which helps run the museum, told the Telegraph that they try to be sensitive to identifying pronouns to people in the past and present.

“It is only polite and respectful,” Hoskins is quoted as saying. “We know that Elagabalus identified as a woman and was explicit about which pronouns to use, which shows that pronouns are not a new thing.”

However, there are a few misgivings over the information.

Mary Beard, author of the history book Emperor of Rome: Ruling the Ancient Roman World, told TIME it’s a “tricky area in the ancient world as it is now.”

“What is said by Romans about Elagabalus,” Beard is quoted as saying, “powerfully reminds us that debates about the boundaries between male and female go back thousands of years (we are not the first generation to have those debates).”

Shushma Malik, a classics professor at Cambridge University, told BBC that Dio wrote the texts when Elagabalus was a teenager, and was probably referring to Elagabalus’ female characteristics. Being termed “wife, mistress, and queen” was probably a way to criticize the emperor’s rule.

“References to Elagabalus wearing makeup, wigs and removing body hair may have been written in order to undermine the unpopular emperor,” Malik is quoted as saying.

Elagabalus ruled the Roman empire for only four years, from 218 AD to 222 AD, after being assassinated at 18 years old.

According to TIME, Elagabalus married both men and women.

BBC also reported that Elagabalus’ short reign was controversial after developing a reputation for sexual promiscuity.