A museum is to rename its exhibit about a Roman emperor after concluding he was, in fact, a trans woman.
North Hertfordshire Museum will now refer to Emperor Elagabalus with the feminine pronouns she and her.
This comes after classical texts claim that the emperor once said “do not call me sir, for I am a lady”.
A museum spokesperson said it would be “polite and respectful to be sensitive to identifying pronouns for people from the past.”
The museum has a Heliogabalus coin, which is frequently displayed among other LGBTQIA+ items in its collection.
The spokesperson said LGBTQIA+ charity Stonewall was consulted to ensure “displays, advertising and talks are as up to date and inclusive as possible”.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, better known as Heliogabalus, ruled the Roman Empire for just four years, from 218 AD until his assassination at the age of 18 in 222 AD.
He became an increasingly controversial figure during his short reign, developing a reputation for sexual promiscuity.
Cassius Dio, senator and contemporary of Elagabalus, writes in his historical chronicles that the emperor was married five times — four times to women, and once to Hiercoles, a former slave and charioteer.
In this final marriage, Dio writes that the emperor “was bestowed in marriage, and was styled wife, mistress, and queen.”
The debate over Elagabalus’ gender identity is long-standing and often divides academics.
Shushma Malik, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC that “the words Dio uses are not a direct quote from Elagabalus and, at the time of writing, the emperor would be in his early teens.”
“There are many examples in Roman literature of times when effeminate language and words were used as a way to criticize or undermine a political figure.”
“References to Elagabalus wearing makeup, wigs and removing body hair may have been written to undermine the unpopular emperor.”
Malik added that although the Romans were aware of gender fluidity, and there are examples of altered pronouns in literature, “it was generally used in reference to myths and religion rather than describing living people.”
However, councilor Keith Hoskins, executive member for Business and Arts at North Herts Council, said texts like Dio’s provide evidence “that Elagabalus definitely preferred the pronoun ‘she’ and as such this is something we reflect on discuss it in contemporary times, as we believe is standard practice elsewhere.”
“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,” he added.