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A Roman emperor was just reclassified as an empress. She was transgender.

A Roman emperor was just reclassified as an empress. She was transgender.

“Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady.”

By Bil Browning Monday, November 27, 2023

A third-century Roman ruler is being reconsidered after British scholars made some interesting discoveries.

According to ancient texts and artifacts, Elagabalus, a teenager who ruled from 218 to 222, was not an emperor. She was an empress.

“Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady,” she even told one of her lovers, according to Roman chronicler Cassius Dio. The historian also wrote that Elagabalus was “termed wife, mistress and queen.”

“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,” Keith Hoskins, and executive at Britain’s North Hertfordshire Museum, told the BBC.

The museum has announced it will now refer to Elagabalus using female pronouns to be “polite and respectful” and “sensitive to identifying pronouns for people in the past.”

The ruler was controversial in her day. She wore wigs and makeup, offered “vast sums” of money to any physician who could remove her penis and construct a vagina, and married a charioteer and former slave, Hierocles. She requested to be called a “domina,” or lady, rather than a “dominus,” or lord.

While the term “transgender” is a modern construction, Elagabalus is not the first documented gender-bending Roman ruler or consort – although not all were willing to transition.

One hundred fifty years before Elagabalus’ brief teenage reign, a young man was nonconsensually castrated and made to live in Emperor Nero’s palace as his “queen.”

If ancient historians Tacitus and Suetonius are correct—and there are questions about their trustworthiness as narrators—feminine-appearing Sporus was a freedman of around 16 when Nero, bereft after the death of his wife, abducted him. Sporus resembled the former Empress.

Nero took three terrible steps to “normalize” their relationship. First, he commanded Sporus to be castrated, offering obscene wealth to any wizard or surgeon who could transform him fully into a woman. Next, he dressed Sporus in his dead wife’s clothes and jewelry, assigning maids and servants to style him like a queen. Finally, he married Sporus, commanding everyone to call him “Empress.”

Sporus was not thrilled by any of this. Though described as effeminate and graceful, there’s no evidence he had gender dysphoria or identified as a woman when the Emperor decided to “use him in every way like a wife,” as Cassius Dio puts it.

After Nero’s death, Sporus became intimate with the next emperor, Otho.


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