A UK museum has declared a third-century Roman emperor a transgender woman — and will start referring to the ruler as “she,” even though some historians believe it is based on ancient insults.
The North Hertfordshire Museum said it is being “sensitive” to the purported pronoun preferences of Emperor Elagabalus, who came to power at 14 in 281 and died by assassination just 4 years later, according to The Telegraph.
The council-run museum in Hitchin claims the switch is based on classical texts that show Elagabalus asked to be called a “lady” and a “wife,” The Telegraph first reported.
It is likewise now only using female pronouns for its displays for a silver denarius coin minted during the brief reign of a teenage leader known for childish pranks involving wild animals and whoopie cushions.
“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,” said Keith Hoskins, executive member for Enterprise and Arts at North Herts Council, which runs the museum, the UK paper said.
“We try to be sensitive to identifying pronouns for people in the past, as we are for people in the present,” Hoskins said, calling it “only polite and respectful.”
The idea that Elagabalus identified as a woman comes from the writings of Roman chronicler Cassius Dio, who claimed that that emperor was “termed wife, mistress and queen,” and told one lover, “Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady.”
According to ancient texts, Elagabalus married multiple women, but only for the purpose of learning their bedroom habits, and also tied the knot with a male chariot driver.
Elagabalus also known to have often worn wigs and makeup, allegedly moonlighted as a female prostitute in Rome’s brothels, and offered large sums of money to any doctor who could perform a gender reassignment surgery by creating a vagina.
But some historians noted that Dio, who chronicled Elagabalus’ purportedly scandalous behavior, served the emperor’s successor, Emperor Severus Alexander — suggesting that his lurid accounts may have been character assassination.
“The Romans didn’t have our idea of ‘trans’ as a category, but they used accusations of sexual behavior ‘as a woman’ as one of the worst insults against men.” Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, a Cambridge classics professor, told the Telegraph
Professor Christian Laes, a University of Manchester classicist, warned that ancient tales of the emperor’s life should be taken with “a huge pinch of salt.”
It was not only Elagabalus’ gender identity and kinky antics that raised eyebrows in Rome during his reign.
The teenage ruler became infamous for playing cruel — and often deadly — pranks on dinner guests.
One such stunt involved planting whoopie cushions under the unsuspecting diners, which ensured that they would slowly sink to the ground over the course of the meal, noted historian and author Mary Beard writes in her latest book, “Emperor of Rome,” published last month, according to a review in The Guardian.
Another sick joke thought up by the emperor entailed smothering dinner guests with a cascade of rose petals dropped from the ceiling.
Elagabalus was also known to release tamed wild animals into a room where drunk partygoers slept off their hangovers.