A UK museum has declared that a Roman emperor was a trans woman and will now be referred to as “she.”
The North Hertfordshire Museum claimed that Elagabalus, who ruled from 218 AD until his assassination at the age of 18 in 222 AD, asked to be called “lady.”
According to the museum’s policy, pronouns used in displays will be those “the individual in question might have used themselves” or whatever pronoun “in retrospect, is appropriate.”
The Daily Telegraph reported that the museum in Hitchin, England, which has a coin minted during Elagabalus’ rule, consulted LGBT charity Stonewall and the LGBT wing of the trade union Unison so that their “…displays, publicity, and talks are as up-to-date and inclusive as possible”.
The update was made due to the account of Cassius Dio, a Roman chronicler from the same period, who claimed Elagabalus was “termed wife, mistress and queen” and told one lover “Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady.”
It was also alleged that Elagabalus, who is occasionally called “the trans-Emperor of Rome,” also asked for female genitalia to be made for him, was known to dress in silks draped with gems and dreamt of surrounding himself with a Roman senate made up entirely of women.
The outlet noted that some historians argue that Dio served the emperor who succeeded Elagabalus, Severus Alexander, and suggested that the claims were used as justification for the assassination.
Cambridge classics professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill said: “The Romans didn’t have our idea of ‘trans’ as a category, but they used accusations of sexual behaviour ‘as a woman’ as one of the worst insults against men.”
He added that because Elagabalus was Syrian, not Roman, “there’s racial prejudice going on there too.”
University of Manchester classicist professor Christian Laes said that the chronicles of the emperor’s life should be taken with “a huge pinch of salt.”
“Most of this is related to the aristocratic and senatorial disdain for the emperor’s oriental origins and beliefs. As regards trans, this was of course never seen as a category by the Romans, but it remains the case that in times of troubles and crisis, so-called transgressors of the sexual norms were subject to scapegoating.”
Despite the pronoun dispute, Liberal Democrat councilor and executive member for arts at North Herts Council Keith Hoskins said, “Elagabalus most definitely preferred the ‘she’ pronoun, and as such this is something we reflect when discussing her in contemporary times.”
He continued, “North Herts Museum has one coin of Elagabalus, which we periodically put on display as it is one of a few LGBTQ+ items we have in our collection. We try to be sensitive to identifying pronouns for people in the past, as we are for people in the present it is only polite and respectful. 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.”