A museum in the UK identifies Elegabalus, the Roman emperor, as a trans woman. The Roman emperor is known to be a genderqueer icon who allegedly stated in a text, “Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady." The North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin made the re-identification and thus, from now on, will refer to the emperor by “she” and “her” pronouns.
The claim comes from evidence suggested by a classic text written by Cassius Dio, a senator, who chronicled that the emperor married five times, one of whom was a former slave and chariot driver, Hierocles. He also claimed that the emperor referred to him as his “husband” and even behaved as his "wife."
According to another account, the emperor also inquired, “Whether a surgical procedure can make him female.”
Elegabalus, a teenage ruler, only reigned between 218 AD and 222 AD. His reign ended when he was assassinated at 18 years old. He was a controversial emperor due to his sexual promiscuity.
A spokesperson from the museum has stated that it was “polite and respectful to be sensitive to identifying pronouns for people in the past." The museum has welcomed this inclusivity, but many wonder if it’s necessary or of any importance. Because of the controversial nature of this move, they wonder how we choose to interpret our history.
The North Hertfordshire Museum took this decision after the University of Leicester released new guidelines that would make British museums and galleries more inclusive of trans representation. The museum also holds, in its possession, a coin of Elegabalus, displaying it amongst their LBTQ+ collection.
Keith Hoskins, executive member for arts at the Lib Dem and Labour, made a statement to The Telegraph: "Elagabalus most definitely preferred she pronoun, and as such this is something we reflect when discussing her in contemporary times.” and ”shows that pronouns are not a new thing."
On the other hand, many historians and experts disagree, such as Mary Beard and Shushma Malik. Mary Beard is a former professor, while Dr. Shushma Malik is the current professor at Cambridge University for Classics.
Mary Beard claims the evidence is ambiguous, contrary to what the museum says. Mary Beard also states that Neo was referred to as a woman and questions Dio’s credibility.
Dr. Shushma Malik believes that historians may have presented Elegabalus in a feminine way to portray them as a weak political figure. “The historians we use to try and understand the life of Elagabalus are extremely hostile towards him and therefore cannot be taken at face value. We don't have any direct evidence from Elagabalus himself of his own words.”
A Classics professor at the University of Colorado stated that the emperor was saying, “Don’t call me this word that ends in the masculine ending; call me this word that ends in the feminine.” However, he also claimed that he did not see this happening and advised people to take biographies as fiction.
This controversy, whether true or not, does indicate that the debate between genders, male and female, is not novel and can go back thousands of years.
Edited By: Vicki Muzio
Photo Courtesy: World History Encyclopedia
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