Elagabalus, also known as Antonius, was born in Homs, modern day Syria in approximately 204 AD. He became the Emperor of Rome in 218 following the death of his cousin in an army revolt. And took the name of Marcus Aurelius Antonius. Elagabalus is also often considered to be an early transgender figure, and one of the first recorded people seeking gender affirmation surgery.
He was the high priest of the sun god Elagabal in Roman Syria when his cousin (the emperor of Rome) was assassinated. His family started the rumour that he was the illegitimate son of the former emperor. This claim was supported by the army and he was declared the emperor in 218. The first year of Elagabalus’ reign was spent putting down rebellions from other parts of the army and empire. Somewhat controversially he instated the sun God as the chief deity in the Roman pantheon. Replacing Jupiter and shocking many Romans. He went on to hold annual festivals for this God. He was not a particularly popular emperor and many later historians have concluded that he was possibly the least able emperor that Rome ever had.
As is often the problem when a figure is so old, there are conflicting and unreliable sources about Elagabalus’ sexual orientation. He is suspected to have married at least three women (one of whom he married twice) and possibly two men. Though there is debate about the second man, who may only have been a eunuch servant and not a husband. Elgabalus is reported to have worn make up and wigs. He was delighted in being referred to as a lady, mistress and wife of his husband, even being called queen. And was also reported to have offered exorbitant sums to anyone who could give him a vagina.
His grandmother, who had initially started the rumour that helped him gain power, decided in 221 that his eccentricities and waning popularity meant that he needed to be replaced as emperor. She encouraged Elagabalus to appoint his cousin as heir. However after increasing arguments on his part he was eventually assassinated and thrown into the river Tiber in 222. He was still a teenager.
There are two ways that Elgabalgus can be seen as having an impact on current LGBTQ+ people. Firstly, he is one of the oldest people that we have a lot of information on that seemed to be transgender. He is a reminder that transgender people have always been here and are not something new. The second is that while his relationship with men was frowned upon, especially because of their perceived ”eccentricities”, it was still allowed. Despite all of our improvements as human species overtime, it does suggest that some things were better in history then they are today.