Was Emperor Elagabalus a Transgender?

Oct 2018
1,692
Sydney
On the child sacrifice allegation against Elagabalus(also known as Heliogabalus) We can see that Dio is disagreed with by other scholars. Still I find interesting to read about what any scholar contemporary or not has to say about Elagabalus.

Heliogabalus is also accused of child sacrifice. This charge has been noted in Cassius Dio and in the Historia Augusta. It is a lot more serious than the other charges. The author of the Historia Augusta says that the emperor chose beautiful, noble, young boys for these sacrifices, whose parents were still alive - all this in order to inflict more sadness and mourning. The sacrifices were carried out by magicians who studied the entrails afterwards.

Few scholars have been willing to accept this charge, which portrays Heliogabalus as a true monster. They see this information as another attempt to discredit the emperor and Semitic culture. It was a stereotypical accusation which was also thrown at Jews, Christians and Isis devotees. And in fact, the way the child sacrifice is described by Dio, including the inspection of the entrails, looks more like an old Etruscan tradition than a Semitic cult act.

Heliogabalus' religion (1) - Livius
Yes, the modern scholar is right in pointing out that child sacrifice tended to be associated with eastern cults, and so this could easily be slander. In fact, accusations of effeminacy was typically leveled at easterners and eastern customs, and so the claims that you bring up in a later point about Elagabalus acting like a woman are not in and of themselves surprising. Effeminate clothing was a literary trope in the description of easterners and of slothfulness and luxury. The claims about gender that are unusual are the ones about surgery, but I agree that, if one chooses to believe these claims, then the claims about his clothing take on a new significance and become relevant. Although in acknowledging the prevalence of nasty tropes about easterners, perhaps we should therefore see the genital thing as a distorted representation of circumcision. But, again, I am sceptical of such an interpretation, a) because the claim is so unusual, and b) because Dio doesn't link the claim to anything cultural or religious.
 
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Oct 2018
1,692
Sydney
So to hear Dio saying that Elagabalus did not take revenge on those that disgraced his name is something that stands out. Why would Elagabalus have this trait, is it possible Christians influenced this trait or was it something completely different having nothing to do with Christians? The act of not engaging in revenge is a Christian trait but also such a trait is found in numerous non Christian movements. And the very link I provide also suggests that Elagabalus was leaning toward a sort of monotheist approach to religion which again ties into Christianity.

It has been assumed that there was a general tendency towards monotheism in the third century, and if one believes this, one can also discern this tendency in Heliogabalus' religious reforms. It is even possible to think that the cult of Sol Invictus Elagabal exerted much influence on Roman religious life from the third century and onwards. However, most scholars believe that Heliogabalus was not the architect of monotheism. Other gods were worshipped in Emesa as well and, as we have seen, Heliogabalus did not ignore them. The accusation that the emperor wished to destroy all other gods in order to venerate only his own god cannot be defended.

Heliogabalus' Religion (2) - Livius
It could just have been his personality. He was perhaps a more decent person than senatorial writers allow. The cult of Elagabal has been linked to henotheism and by extension monotheism, and whereas Christianity made great use of light and the sun in describing its God, Elagabal was a sun god. But I don't think there are any links that suggest that Elagabalus was particularly influenced by Christian thinking.
 
Sep 2019
27
Antioch
I believe Antoninus couldn’t have been transgender. Wasn’t this emperor supposed to have been a mere puppet of his mother and his grandmother? In that case, it would have been highly unlikely for them to have selected him to play the role of the new Antoninus (Caracalla) if they weren’t convinced he’d be able to fit into roman society. He was raised in Rome and wouldn’t have been able to get away with it, let alone be elevated to the esteemed position of august imperator. There must have been a gradually increasing problem with him, with the people he allowed himself to be influenced by, and with his (religious) policies, as he came of age and didn’t continue to be a boy-puppet, that his aunt and grandmother decided to throw him and his mother under the bus. But then again, Rome was full of intrigue, and it was common practice to imaginatively slander those who had been disposed and those who had been unpopular amongst the elite. His story strikes me as someone who had remained very passive throughout the years. Perhaps the slander against him might have been a mirror to the real person in power, his mother Julia Augusta.
 
Oct 2018
1,692
Sydney
I believe Antoninus couldn’t have been transgender. Wasn’t this emperor supposed to have been a mere puppet of his mother and his grandmother? In that case, it would have been highly unlikely for them to have selected him to play the role of the new Antoninus (Caracalla) if they weren’t convinced he’d be able to fit into roman society. He was raised in Rome and wouldn’t have been able to get away with it, let alone be elevated to the esteemed position of august imperator. There must have been a gradually increasing problem with him, with the people he allowed himself to be influenced by, and with his (religious) policies, as he came of age and didn’t continue to be a boy-puppet, that his aunt and grandmother decided to throw him and his mother under the bus. But then again, Rome was full of intrigue, and it was common practice to imaginatively slander those who had been disposed and those who had been unpopular amongst the elite. His story strikes me as someone who had remained very passive throughout the years. Perhaps the slander against him might have been a mirror to the real person in power, his mother Julia Augusta.
He was raised in Emesa rather than Rome, where he lived as a priest of Elagabal. He was apparently very much dedicated to Elagabal at the expense of the traditional state cults of Rome, and was also pretty young, both factors that help to explain why he made a bad impression with the Senate and was apparently difficult to control. His being influenced by his lovers adds to the picture, and also possibly relevant is his alleged desire to be 'of two natures'.

As to whether such things are possible, he was indeed originally propped up by his mother Julia Soemias and his grandmother Julia Maesa, but at this time the standards weren't that high regarding whether Elagabalus was fit to be emperor. The most important factors were that he was a Severan, was (so his mother and grandmother claimed) the son of Caracalla, and that many of the soldiers based in Syria were familiar with him. This made him a very appealing alternative to Macrinus, who had already hurt his popularity by a) overthrowing Caracalla, a great benefactor of the army, b) by refusing to extend Caracalla's raise to new recruits, and c) by agreeing to an unfavourable treaty with the Parthians. Note, for instance, that the fact that he was a mere teenager was not an issue. Caracalla was about seven or eight when he became Caesar and about nine when he became Augustus. Severus Alexander was about twelve when he became Caesar and about thirteen when he became Augustus. Gordian III was thirteen when he became Caesar and then Augustus. Philip II was ‘of a tender age’ (tener) when he presided as Augustus over the Secular Games (Epitome de Caesaribus 28.3). Certainly, Elagabalus wore out his welcome rather quickly, but it would not be until the troubles of the mid- and late third century that the standards became higher, when the armies became more trigger-happy and career solders came to dominate the imperial position.
 
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Sep 2019
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Antioch
He was raised in Emesa rather than Rome, where he lived as a priest of Elagabal.
According to the research of Martijn Icks (2011) and apparent scholarly consensus, Julia Soaemias resided in Rome at the imperial court during the reign of Lucius Augustus (193-211) and Antoninus Augustus (211-217). Moreover, Sextus Varius Marcellus, the supposed biological father of Varius (Elagabalus) had occupied several high posts (mainly) in Rome, but also in Britannia and Numidia where his “Familia” might have joined him. It wasn’t until after the battle of Nisibis (217) that the 3 Julia’s (Maesa/Soaemias/Mamaea) were given the boot and had to take up residence in Emesa.
 
Sep 2019
27
Antioch
His being influenced by his lovers adds to the picture, and also possibly relevant is his alleged desire to be 'of two natures'.
Shemesh,

The content of your post and the attached photograph were deleted. The post was non-historical, immature and totally beyond the standards of Historum.

Any additional violations of Historum standards of will result in severe sanctions.

Civility and decorum are not an option on this forum.

The Moderator Team.
 
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Oct 2018
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Sydney
According to the research of Martijn Icks (2011) and apparent scholarly consensus, Julia Soaemias resided in Rome at the imperial court during the reign of Lucius Augustus (193-211) and Antoninus Augustus (211-217). Moreover, Sextus Varius Marcellus, the supposed biological father of Varius (Elagabalus) had occupied several high posts (mainly) in Rome, but also in Britannia and Numidia where his “Familia” might have joined him. It wasn’t until after the battle of Nisibis (217) that the 3 Julia’s (Maesa/Soaemias/Mamaea) were given the boot and had to take up residence in Emesa.
I stand corrected!
 
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Shemesh,

The content of your post and the attached photograph were deleted. The post was non-historical, immature and totally beyond the standards of Historum.

Any additional violations of Historum standards of will result in severe santions.

Civility and decorum are not an option on this forum.

The Moderator Team.
I saw the comment before it was removed, and so I'll attempt to respond to what I remember reading (the non-controversial bit that didn't relate to modern politics). The claim that Elagabalus was influenced by his lovers may indeed be slander. We can certainly expect things to have been invented and exaggerated. But invective often builds from a basis in reality, and certainly Elagabalus and Soaemias were sufficiently unpopular for the praetorians and their close relatives (including Elagabalus' grandmother) to remove them after a rather short reign. There would have been reasons for this unpopularity.
 
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As for the 'two natures', I'll repeat what I said earlier in this thread, that the unusual nature of the invective, with no basis in ancient tropes/cliches, could suggest a basis in reality. One might retort with the assertion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but such is more suited to science than ancient history. If we dismissed every curious claim in ancient history with that maxim we would have rather little ancient history. Speaking as someone with an ancient history PhD, the standards are simply different by virtue of the quality of the evidence. The straight-up dismissal of something because it doesn't match scientific standards of evidence is not conducive to the discipline. Ultimately, there is room for informed speculation.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
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As for the 'two natures', I'll repeat what I said earlier in this thread, that the unusual nature of the invective, with no basis in ancient tropes/cliches, could suggest a basis in reality. One might retort with the assertion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but such is more suited to science than ancient history. If we dismissed every curious claim in ancient history with that maxim we would have rather little ancient history. Speaking as someone with an ancient history PhD, the standards are simply different by virtue of the quality of the evidence. The straight-up dismissal of something because it doesn't match scientific standards of evidence is not conducive to the discipline. Ultimately, there is room for informed speculation.
One could conduct a scientific study to prove whether it was physically possible for an alleged ancient event to happen, and if the event involved sufficiently strong physical events one might even be able to detect scientifically whether it happened or what type of event it was. But it is pretty much impossible to scientifically prove the truth or falsehood of most events recorded by ancient historians.

But in physical sciences a theory has to make predictions that can be tested, and the tests have to support the theory, for it to become widely accepted as correct.

So there are extremely different standards of evidence or proof in ancient history and physical science. Which makes a lot of historical questions puzzles that can probably never be solved but which continue to fascinate many.