The North Hertfordshire Museum has announced that will refer to Roman emperor Eliogabalo with female pronouns, considering him as a trans woman. This is what “The Telegraph” from London reports. But controversies have been immediate: the “Giornale” from Italy immediately commented in an article that is “exactly as pretended by the same Taliban of LGBT galaxy”.
There is no shortage of controversies also in London, the scholars of the Museum have tried to silence the rumors. “An appropriate and respectful choice in retrospect that reflects the current sensitivity on the theme of gender”, said The Telegraph.
Belonging to Severi dynasty, Eliogabalo reigned only from 218 to 222 before he/she was killed at just 18 years old. However, according to some classic texts, he/she had the time to marry five wives and two husbands. He/she’d ask them all to be called “Domina” (Mrs). Roman historian Lucio Cassio Dione wrote that the emperor called himself “woman, mistress, ladyboy”, that he requested “female genitalia” and “a Senate composed of women only”. Even historian Ollie Burns from Birmingham University claims that Eliogabalo offered “large sums of money to any doctors who could give her a vagina” investigating the available methods for removing male genitalia. To confirm these theses, the silver coin exhibited in the museum on which Eliogabalo is depicted, an iconographic symbol of many LGBTQ+ associations forever.
In addition, the decision of the North Hertfordshire Museum has not been taken lightly. Before adopting it, the museum has coordinated with Stonewall. Despite this, several historians believe that the sources refer to a series of rumors of the time, spread to discredit Eliogabalo. Accusing someone of “femininity”, was a tactic of defamation at the time. In support of this thesis, the historian Lucio Cassio served the successor of Eliogabalo, Alessandro Severo.
Still, the classicist Andrew Wallace-Hadrill from Cambridge University explained that the Romans did not have a conceptual definition of “trans” as we conceive it today. Likewise, the classicist Christian Laes from Manchester University agrees with the theory that female appellatives were racist insults turned to Eliogabalo.
Regardless of whether or not Eliogabalo was trans, the emperor was cruel during his years in government. His/her behavior remind those of Caligula and Nero. Maybe, for this reason, he/she was assassinated by his/her own soldiers. It seems that he/she used to have fun to torture and kill his/her guests with leopards and lions or to tie them to water mills and drown them.
The Syrians believed in inheritance law associated with the Sun divinity, so much that his/her mother Giulia Soemie with his/her grandmother Giulia Mesa helped Eliogabalo to become emperor at only 14.
As soon as he/her became emperor, he replaced the cult of Jupiter with Sol Invictus divinity. His/her government was very arbitrary between decadence, eccentricity and fanaticism, so that Eliogabalo was struck by “damnatio memoriae”.
Today historians show us a more complex portrait of this young emperor, in stark contrast with the conservatism of Senate and bigotry. Then, we can define him/her as a revolutionary for the time but incapable of fully understanding the importance of his role in terms of decision-making.