Friday, December 6, 2019

The Emperor's Gender: Elagabalus, Epit. de. Caes. XXIII.1-3


TRIGGER WARNING: The Roman Emperor Elagabalus refused to adhere to Roman cultural norms, transgressing traditional gender roles, imperial court etiquette, and tenets of state religion. Many Roman historians condemned him for this behavior, including the anonymous author of the Epitome de Caesaribus; the author's bias in the following passage is evident.

Aurelius Antoninus Varius, idem Heliogabalus dictus, Caracallae ex Soemea consobrina occulte stuprata filius, imperavit biennio et mensibus octo. Huius matris Soemeae avus Bassianus nominee fuerat Solis sacerdos; quem Phoenices, unde erat, Heliogabalum nominabant, a quo iste Heliogabalus dictus est. Is cum Romam ingenti militum et senatus exspectatione venisset, probris se omnium contaminavit. Cupiditatem stupri, quam assequi naturae defectu nondum poterat, in se convertens muliebri nomine Bassianam se pro Bassiano iusserat appellari. Vestalem virginem quasi matrimonio iungens suo abscisisque genitalibus Matri se Magnae sacravit. 

--Epitome de Caesaribus, XXIII.1-3

Aurelius Antoninus Varius, also called Heliogabalus [Elagabalus], ruled for two years and eight months. He was a bastard son the Emperor Caracalla and his cousin Soemea. Bassianus, his mother Soemea's grandfather, was a sacred priest of the Sun, which the Phoenicians called Heliogabalus; this is where Elagabalus got his name.  
At first, Rome's senate and armies looked forward to his rule, but he disappointed them with his inappropriate behavior [probris]. When his body was not able to comply with his wishes [naturae defectu], Elagabalus ordered everyone to call him with the feminine name "Bassiana" instead of Bassianus [his birth name]. Uniting with a Vestal Virgin in a marriage ceremony, he later had his genitals surgically removed and dedicated himself [as a nun] to the worship of the goddess Magna Mater.

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