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The Transgender Roman Emperor



You may never have heard of the Roman emperor Elagabalus, possibly because the name changed (according to Wikipedia, Elagabalus' royal name was Antoninus) and because he only ruled for four years, from age 14 to 18, then was assassinated in disgrace. Was it because Elagabalus promoted the worship of a sun god ahead of the Roman pantheon? Was it because he was incompetent? Or was it because of his sexuality? There is some evidence that Elagabalus may have been transgender.    

An 18th century English historian Edward Gibbon, wrote that Elagabalus “abandoned himself to the grossest pleasures with ungoverned fury.” Germany’s leading historian of Ancient Rome, Barthold Georg Niebuhr, said that “the name Elagabalus is branded in history above all others” because of his “unspeakably disgusting life.” An example of a modern historian’s assessment is Adrian Goldsworthy’s view that: “Elagabalus was not a tyrant, but […] incompetent, probably the least able emperor Rome had ever had.” Only archaeologist Warwick Ball describes Elagabalus as “innovative” and “a tragic enigma lost behind centuries of prejudice.”

When Elagabalus was alive, a Roman statesman who kept close tabs on the lives of his emperors. In his writings, Cassius Dio notably referred to Elagabalus by feminine pronouns and states that the emperor wanted to marry a former male slave and charioteer named Hierocles. Dio stated that Elagabalus delighted in being called Hierocles’s mistress, wife, and queen. Officially, Elagabalus was married five times (and twice to the same woman) all before he was 18, although there were rumours he also married a man named Zoticus, an athlete from Smyrna.

There were further clues from the written accounts of the teenage emperor's reign. Read what we know about the Roman emperor now known as Elagabalus at Messy Nessy Chic. 


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