Introduction Eunuchs of Byzantium: Context and Definition

in The Perfect Servant

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2004 | ISBN: 9780226720159
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226720166 | DOI:
Introduction Eunuchs of Byzantium: Context and Definition

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This chapter provides an overview of this book, which explores the place of eunuchs in Byzantine society and culture and studies an institution that was both very ancient and quite varied in its makeup. It asks about Byzantine society's conscious perceptions of eunuchs, about its unconscious assumptions regarding eunuchs, and about the variety of gender subcategories that were encompassed by the term eunuch. The chapter also suggests that Byzantine society classed eunuchs as what modern analysis defines as a separate gender category, one which was neither male nor female, and that the nature of this category changed significantly over a thousand years of Late Antique and Byzantine history. In doing this, it explores the construction and perception of gender in the Byzantine world between the sixth and twelfth centuries. The analysis is based on the premise that Byzantine culture incorporated more than two well-defined gender categories as part of normal life in Byzantium, at least among the urban, courtly elite. The eunuchs of Byzantium thus offer an example of an alternative gender category and of the need to understand how such categories function in society, past and present.

Keywords: eunuchs; Byzantine society; perceptions of eunuchs; gender; Byzantine culture; institution

Chapter.  13213 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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