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Empress Elagabalus ?


Al Kowsky

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The¬†ART NEWSPAPER¬†recently published an article authored by¬†Gareth Harris,¬†"UK museum reclassifies Roman emperor transgender". It appears the¬†North Hertfordshire Museum¬†has gone "politically correct" & now refers to Emperor Elagabalus as "she" in its displays¬†ūüėā. The museum points out that Cassius Dio, a contemporary of¬†Elagabalus, said he preferred the pronoun "she" & wanted to be called¬†domina¬†(lady) instead of¬†dominus¬†(lord). It was also rumored¬†that Elagabalus tried unsuccessfully¬†to find a doctor who could carry out sex reassignment¬†surgery on himūüôĄ. Have some people gone too far to appease the LGBTQ¬†community?

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2023/11/21/uk-museum-reclassifies-roman-emperor-as-transgender

Elagabalustet.October22019.jpg.508b0d8210cd29db069221e327c9b68d.jpg

SELEUCIS and PIERIA, Antioch. Elagabalus AD 218-222 (struck AD 219). "Emesan Issues". Billon Tetradrachm: 13.46 gm, 26 mm, 6 h. Prieur 251 & 264. McAlee 762. Ex Michel Prieur Collection. Ex CNG 67, lot 1132, September 22, 2004.

 

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I was actually going to post this story yesterday, but I felt it may have lead to political talk, so I didn't bother.

He's one of my favorites to collect. Instead of the usual denarius or Antioch, here is a Alexandrian.

elaalex0.jpg.19e353f0a4856386463132f190862a1b.jpg

Elagabalus (218 - 222 A.D.)

Egypt, Alexandria
Billon Tetradrachm
O: A KAICAP MA AVP ANTWNINOC EVCEB, Laureate bust right.
R: Eagle standing facing, head right, with wings spread, holding wreath in beak; LőĒ (date) to left.. Dated RY 4 (220/221 A.D.)
22mm
13.59g
Köln 2326; Dattari 4153; Milne 2819 = Emmett 2921.4

Rare

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I don't like people shaping history as they like. But, in this instance historical record shows Elagabalus often portrayed himself (or herself) as a woman. I'm not sure if it's appeasing the LGBTQ community, but, we also should not view history as either black or white. In regards to numismatics, I've never seen a coin where Elagabalus has elaborate hairdos like other empresses or anything suggesting feminine. 

Edited by JayAg47
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13 minutes ago, JayAg47 said:

I don't like people shaping history as they like. But, in this instance historical record shows Elagabalus often portrayed himself (or herself) as a woman. I'm not sure if it's appeasing the LGBTQ community, but, we also should not view history as either black or white. In regards to numismatics, I've never seen a coin where Elagabalus has elaborate hairdos like other empresses or anything suggesting feminine. 

If they existed, I would expect them to go for huge amounts of money, more for curiosity sake, similar to the "Tribute Penny", when overall, the "Penny" is common and boring.

Edited by Kali
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I don't think there is any escape from the current ideological battles spilling over into the study of history. And trying to reshape or reimagine history through new language and/or applying the latest dialectics is actually the norm in every age. The illuminists saw decline and disaster in anything that had to do with christianity. The Nazis invented an ethnic monobloc identity for "the Germanic race" in a "race war" against the "lesser" races. The communists tried to apply the "class struggle" to everything, from the the invention of agriculture to the Greek polis. The nationalists invented local and autharchic myths that were used instead of honest research to keep the history of their countries isolated from the neighbors. If you compare this new fad with the previous ones, it looks rather harmless. 

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This is from Wikipedia

Marriages, sexual orientation and gender identity
Roman denarius depicting Aquilia Severa, the second wife of Elagabalus. The marriage caused a public outrage because Aquilia was a Vestal Virgin, sworn by Roman law to celibacy for 30 years. Inscription: iulia aquilia severa aug·

The question of Elagabalus's sexual orientation and gender identity is confused, owing to salacious and unreliable sources. Cassius Dio states that Elagabalus was married five times (twice to the same woman). His first wife was Julia Cornelia Paula, whom he married prior to 29 August 219; between then and 28 August 220, he divorced Paula, took the Vestal Virgin Julia Aquilia Severa as his second wife, divorced her, and took a third wife, who Herodian says was Annia Aurelia Faustina, a descendant of Marcus Aurelius and the widow of a man Elagabalus had recently executed, Pomponius Bassus. In the last year of his reign, Elagabalus divorced Annia Faustina and remarried Aquilia Severa.

Dio states that another "husband of this woman [Elagabalus] was Hierocles", an ex-slave and chariot driver from Caria. The Augustan History claims that Elagabalus also married a man named Zoticus, an athlete from Smyrna, while Dio says only that Zoticus was his cubicularius. Dio says that Elagabalus prostituted himself in taverns and brothels.

Dio says Elagabalus delighted in being called Hierocles's mistress, wife, and queen.The emperor reportedly wore makeup and wigs, preferred to be called a lady and not a lord, and supposedly offered vast sums to any physician who could provide him with a vagina by means of incision.Some writers suggest that Elagabalus may have identified as female or been transgender, and may have sought sex reassignment surgery.

In November 2023, the North Hertfordshire Museum, United Kingdom, announced that Elagabalus would be considered as transgender and hence referred to with female pronouns in its exhibits due to claims that the emperor had said "call me not Lord, for I am a Lady". The museum has one Elagabalus coin, which is often displayed amongst other LGBTQ+ items in its collection.

I was reading this very story when I was waiting for my coin to arrive

Elagabalus AR Denarius, Rome 220-222 AD
IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG, laureate draped bust right / VICTORIA AVG, Victory flying left, open diadem in both hands, shields to both sides, star in right field. RSC 300. RIC 161. BMC 234. 2,8 g - 18,5 mm

qJr48RtMf9QSN42xk3zKZij5L7pC6G.jpg.eaa0c84c7eb79611fdcb88f2a52d2916.jpg

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1 hour ago, Al Kowsky said:

The¬†ART NEWSPAPER¬†recently published an article authored by¬†Gareth Harris,¬†"UK museum reclassifies Roman emperor transgender". It appears the¬†North Hertfordshire Museum¬†has gone "politically correct" & now refers to Emperor Elagabalus as "she" in its displays¬†ūüėā. The museum points out that Cassius Dio, a contemporary of¬†Elagabalus, said he preferred the pronoun "she" & wanted to be called¬†domina¬†(lady) instead of¬†dominus¬†(lord). It was also rumored¬†that Elagabalus tried unsuccessfully¬†to find a doctor who could carry out sex reassignment¬†surgery on himūüôĄ. Have some people gone too far to appease the LGBTQ¬†community?

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2023/11/21/uk-museum-reclassifies-roman-emperor-as-transgender

Elagabalustet.October22019.jpg.508b0d8210cd29db069221e327c9b68d.jpg

SELEUCIS and PIERIA, Antioch. Elagabalus AD 218-222 (struck AD 219). "Emesan Issues". Billon Tetradrachm: 13.46 gm, 26 mm, 6 h. Prieur 251 & 264. McAlee 762. Ex Michel Prieur Collection. Ex CNG 67, lot 1132, September 22, 2004.

 

Interesting! I was not aware that this is scientifically proven... "She" was only 14 to 18 years old as an emperor. Should 14 year olds be allowed to change their gender? Should they be allowed to become Roman emperors? 
I believe that it is in the best interest of all 14 years olds if we don't take everything that they say for 100% serious until there is some consistency... 
But I assume that the historians and the museum have thought about that before they made their decision.

Here's my favorite coin of "her"¬†ūüôā

image.jpeg.514a1ebe25020fc2d37b087299bebcca.jpeg

Elagabalus, 218-222. Denarius (Silver, 20 mm, 2.76 g, 12 h), Rome, 220-222.
Obv: IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG Laureate and draped bust of Elagabalus to right, seen from behind.
Rev: LIBERTAS AVG Libertas standing front, head to left, holding pileus in her right hand and vindicta in her left; in field to right, star.
BMC 220. Cohen 92. RIC 107.

Edited by Salomons Cat
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I'm honestly convinced that other than hard numismatic or archeological evidence, we shouldn't assume we know anything about Elagabalus. Cassius Dio was writing while Alexander was in power, so of course he's going to make it look like Elagabalus had it coming. The coins from the last few months of his reign reflect a time when he tried to flex his independence from Julia Maesa, and they reflect his religious sensibilities and his portrait as he saw himself, rather than the "good boy" iconography of the previous 3 years - doesn't look particularly feminine to me...

Elagabalusdenariusinvictvssacerdosavg.jpg.ca064bf8aa0eb34b234d5c109438f0db.jpg

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Engaging with history is a way we can reflect on and debate our own culture and society. The question of gender identity in 3rd century Rome (anachronistic as it is) is a perfect example of such. The questions it raises of course cannot be definitively answered at this remote date, but the discussion should be fruitful and worthwhile. 

Don't let anyone tell you the study of history is unimportant or worthless. It tells us as much about ourselves as it does the past.

Edited by David Atherton
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2 hours ago, Al Kowsky said:

The museum points out that Cassius Dio, a contemporary of Elagabalus, said he preferred the pronoun "she" & wanted to be called domina (lady) instead of dominus (lord).

Cassius Dio wrote from a senatorial perspective and under the patronage of Severus Alexander. That means he had a vested interest in making Elagabalus look as bad as possible. The details Dio gives about Elagabalus' unconventional sex life thus must be read as political propaganda. It is unclear how much truth is contained in his account, but his message can be summarized as follows: "Elagabalus was a crazy, outrageous, and effeminate decadent ‚Äď look how great Severus Alexander is in comparison!"

I find it a bit naive to uncritically take what is meant to be slander as historical fact. Reading a modern transgender biography into Dio's account furthermore ignores how different ancient Roman ideas about gender and sexuality were from our current debates. But I guess that is what happens when you try to reshape history in your own image...

Edited by Ursus
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I've read all the comments posted by members on this thread so far & they vary in reaction to the article posted by¬†ART NEWSPAPER.¬†I strongly resent anyone trying to rewrite history to satisfy their own agenda. I have dozens of books on ancient coins & well over a two hundred auction catalogs on ancient coins, & none of these reference sources refer to Elagabalus as she, empress, or transgender. In the future I can't imagine anyone writing a reference source referring¬†to Elagabalus as anything other than a male boy. No doubt he was a homosexual, so lets not make it anything more than what we know for sure¬†ūüėŹ....

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9 minutes ago, Al Kowsky said:

I strongly resent anyone trying to rewrite history to satisfy their own agenda. 

 

History is always being rewritten...if it wasn't there would be only three history books-- one on ancient history, one for medieval history and one on modern history; which would be updated as time passed. The reality is that there are many books on each subject and each author has their own agenda. The museum has actually done something clever to get people talking and maybe get some people interested in ancient history. If you don't like it, that's fine; but right now you are dancing to their tune.

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I dont think we need to re-write history on this one.  I understand people nowadays are very progressive and wish to work that into many topics but I dont think its necessary here.  From how I interpret the history he was more of a bi-sexual cross dresser than anything else.

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47 minutes ago, Al Kowsky said:

none of these reference sources refer to Elagabalus as she, empress, or transgender.

True. However, they did describe Elagabal's behavior which might, as Ken wrote, make for "a bi-sexual cross dresser."  I'm not sure the term "transgender" even existed fifty or twenty years ago. Certainly, it was not publicly discussed until recently and would not have made it into reference sources. Now "transgender" is often associated with taking hormones and even undergoing surgery and Elagabalus did not have access to those treatments. Of course, we will never know more than the ancient scandal-sheets say, but "he" was born a male and it was not possible in Roman times for a "he" to become a "she" in the same way it is now. So, "she, empress, or transgender" do not apply in the sense they are used in 2023. 

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I think the primary issue here is we don't really know what Elagabalus said concerning the matter.

No historical source is unbiased and it's certainly the case that many who wrote about him wanted to paint a decrepit picture. While we definitely have some archeological (and numismatic) evidence that he was "odd", going so far as to label him as a her entirely due to comments others made about him is entirely speculative.

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14 hours ago, Al Kowsky said:

Have some people gone too far to appease the LGBTQ community?

The term "appeasement" is generally reserved for actions taken to placate powerful, evil figures like Adolf Hitler. I would respectfully suggest that your use of the term in connection with the LGBTQ community -- especially the notoriously powerful transgender community (sarcasm) -- is highly inappropriate.

Far from "rewriting history," it's clearly ahistorical to deny that trans people (like gay people) have always existed, simply because the current terminology didn't always exist.  I don't know how else one would characterize (for example) the galli who were Cybele's acolytes. Should we avoid applying words like "homosexual" or "bisexual" to someone like Hadrian because those words weren't coined until the second half of the 19th century?

In this particular case, if one were to assume that Cassius Dio's account of Elagabalus's words and actions was entirely accurate, then it would make sense to characterize Elagabalus as transgender. In fact, some people on the Internet have been doing so for a long time, from what I've read, although hardly as formally or "officially" as this museum. It would hardly have been the worst of his alleged sins, as shocking as 19th and early 20th century numismatists seem to have found it.  But others have already pointed out the problems with taking Dio, an inherently biased source with an agenda, as gospel. Not all ancient scurrilous gossip about emperors and other prominent figures should necessarily be taken as true. Otherwise, I suppose we would have to start labeling museum exhibits about Julius Caesar "the Queen of Bithynia," and call him, with Gaius Scribonius Curio, "every man's wife and every woman's husband."  TLDR: It's fine to acknowledge the possibility, but don't officially present it as having been proven to be true.

Edited by DonnaML
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29 minutes ago, Valentinian said:

 I'm not sure the term "transgender" even existed fifty or twenty years ago. 

I just looked it up -- it was apparently first used in the 1970s, "transsexual" in the 1920s. As I said above, though, identities and behaviors existed long before the words currently used to describe them were coined!

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9 hours ago, Al Kowsky said:

The¬†ART NEWSPAPER¬†recently published an article authored by¬†Gareth Harris,¬†"UK museum reclassifies Roman emperor transgender". It appears the¬†North Hertfordshire Museum¬†has gone "politically correct" & now refers to Emperor Elagabalus as "she" in its displays¬†ūüėā. The museum points out that Cassius Dio, a contemporary of¬†Elagabalus, said he preferred the pronoun "she" & wanted to be called¬†domina¬†(lady) instead of¬†dominus¬†(lord). It was also rumored¬†that Elagabalus tried unsuccessfully¬†to find a doctor who could carry out sex reassignment¬†surgery on himūüôĄ. Have some people gone too far to appease the LGBTQ¬†community?

I can't say I'm surprised at this given the trend of today's culture, but it doesn't make it any less idiotic.¬†ūüôĄ

I don't know what aspect of this is more objectionable - the fact that they're trying to rewrite historical figures to fit modern ideologies, or that they (apparently) think we're all obligated to respect and affirm the personal delusions of a very confused man. I, for one, decline to go along.¬†ūüėČ

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Two minor points.

1) This museum is basically a glorified cafe  above a town hall in a small  town in England - I'm hopefully not being unduly disrespectful to them in suggesting that they are hardly opinion-setters.

but more importantly

2) There are many, many ancient Greeks mortal  and divine who we would have  HUGE difficulty placing  in a "morals box".  Alcibiades  is one whose wide-ranging "interests" would  likely land  him in jail now and  at most  times in the recent past. Apollo was often shown  in highly effeminate clothing- some coins that show  him are so feminine in appearance there's a mini-academic argument over them. There are plenty of images on pottery that show him in women's clothing,  he is sometimes described as Artemis' brother (which is  incredibly rare to do - Artemis should be described as his sister) and  here are a couple of quotes that might make  it even clearer

 

These children Niobe placed above those of Latona [Leto], and spoke rather contemptuously against Apollo and Diana [Artemis] because Diana was girt in man's attire, and Apollo wore long hair and a woman's gown."
- Hyginus, Fabulae 9 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.)

 

[describing an effeminate man]: giving himself excessive airs of daintiness and indulging in all sorts of effeminacy; sometimes darting his eyes about; sometimes throwing his hands hither and thither...sometimes personating Aphrodite, sometimes Apollo"
- Tatian, Address to the Greeks

 

I  just hope this "museum" doesn't get its hands on these sorts of  images! Apollo front and centre.

 

tumblr_c7aef0f3c02e6dff6f06c13884c30d51_6358bc40_640.jpg.1fc4d8753f8f238d637532509fd227df.jpg

 

 

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Emperor Elagabalus is what she was. I'm happy that the Museum is provoking the public to ponder on how "history" has been written.

The Museum should update it's own record though (and maybe get a better coin). They use "they" not "she" in the record for their solitary and quite crappy Elagabalus denarius.

https://northhertsmuseum.org/north-hertfordshire-museum/collections/object-details/1882563/

 

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38 minutes ago, ACCLA-Mike said:

Emperor Elagabalus is what she was. I'm happy that the Museum is provoking the public to ponder on how "history" has been written.

The Museum should update it's own record though (and maybe get a better coin). They use "they" not "she" in the record for their solitary and quite crappy Elagabalus denarius.

https://northhertsmuseum.org/north-hertfordshire-museum/collections/object-details/1882563/

 

Wow, what a crappy coin! 

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" Last month new guidance on trans inclusive practice ( whatever that means ) in uk museums, galleries, archives and heritage sites, was published by the University of Leicester's research centre for Museums and Galleries "

I think the statement above tells you all you need to know.

Find a suitable historical figure, Put a modern ish label on it and demands from above fulfilled.

They even managed to get folks on coin forums talking about it, despite its absurdity.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and they did it without mentioning Hitler, not once¬†ūüėČ

 

 

 

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