Episode 21: The Real Housewife of Rome

What better way to celebrate the New Year than with a new episode of History is Gay? This time, Gretchen and Leigh dive into the brief, controversial, and totally extra reign of Emperor Elagabalus of Rome. Or rather, Empress Elagabalus! Whether it be marrying multiple wives and one husband, revolutionizing the Roman religion, installing women as senators, throwing parties with sex workers, or enjoying the attention of well-endowed men, Elagabalus was as unconventional as they come. And chances are, she may very well have been a trans woman. So grab your jeweled slippers and tiara and enjoy the real housewife of Rome, Elagabalus.

A Closer Look at Elagabalus

 

Portrait of young elagabalus.

Portrait of young elagabalus.

Roman Denarius featuring the bust of elagabalus (left) and the sun god Sol (Right) with upraised hand and whip. 221 CE. For a full database of Elagabalus coins,  click here .

Roman Denarius featuring the bust of elagabalus (left) and the sun god Sol (Right) with upraised hand and whip. 221 CE. For a full database of Elagabalus coins, click here.

Roman Denarius featuring the bust of Aquilia Severa (Elagabalus’ second and fourth wife). ca 219-222 CE. For a full database of Aquilia Severa coins,  click here .

Roman Denarius featuring the bust of Aquilia Severa (Elagabalus’ second and fourth wife). ca 219-222 CE. For a full database of Aquilia Severa coins, click here.

Roman aureus featuring the bust of elagabalus (right) and a chariot driven by four horses (right) containing the stone of emesa—representing Elagabal—topped by an eagle—a symbol of protection in Syrian iconography and of roman imperial authority in roman iconography. 222 CE.

Roman aureus featuring the bust of elagabalus (right) and a chariot driven by four horses (right) containing the stone of emesa—representing Elagabal—topped by an eagle—a symbol of protection in Syrian iconography and of roman imperial authority in roman iconography. 222 CE.

Roman Antoninianus featuring the bust of Julia Maesa (Elagabalus’ Grandmother). 218-219 CE. For more Julia Maesa Coins,  Click here .

Roman Antoninianus featuring the bust of Julia Maesa (Elagabalus’ Grandmother). 218-219 CE. For more Julia Maesa Coins, Click here.

Sculpture of Julia Soaemias (Elagabalus’ Mother).

Sculpture of Julia Soaemias (Elagabalus’ Mother).

Paintings Dedicated to Elagabalus

Heliogabalus, high priest of the sun  by Simeon Solomon. 1866.

Heliogabalus, high priest of the sun by Simeon Solomon. 1866.

The Roses of elagabalus , by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. 1888.

The Roses of elagabalus, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. 1888.

According to the Augustan History (uses he/him pronouns):

"In a banqueting-room with a reversible ceiling he once buried his guests in violets and other flowers, so that some were actually smothered to death, being unable to crawl out to the top.”

Elagabalus' entrance into Rome, with the baetyl representing elagabal behind him, as illustrated by Auguste Leroux for the novel  L'Agonie  by Jean Lombard (1902 edition). 1902.

Elagabalus' entrance into Rome, with the baetyl representing elagabal behind him, as illustrated by Auguste Leroux for the novel L'Agonie by Jean Lombard (1902 edition). 1902.

If you want to learn more about Elagabalus, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books and Print Articles:

  • Queer, There, and Everywhere by Sarah Prager

  • The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus by John Stuart Hay

  • The Emperor Elagabalus: Fact or Fiction? by Leonardo de Arrizabalaga y Prado

  • The Crimes of Elagabalus: The Life and Legacy of Rome's Decadent Boy Emperor By Martijn Icks

  • Greek and Roman Sexualities: A Sourcebook by Jennifer Larson.

  • “Marlowe, the 'Mad Priest of the Sun', and Heliogabalus” by Tom Rutter, in Early Theatre Vol. 13, No. 1 (2010).

  • “Censoring Eliogabalo in Seventeenth-Century Venice” by Mauro Calcagno, in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History Vol. 36, No. 3, Opera and Society: Part I (Winter, 2006).

  • “Active/Passive, Acts/Passions: Greek and Roman Sexualities” by Ruth Mazo Karras, in The American Historical Review Vol. 105, No. 4 (Oct., 2000).

  • “History as Carnival, or Method and Madness in the Vita Heliogabali by Gottfried Mader, in Classical Antiquity Vol. 24, No. 1 (April 2005).

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!