Transgressing Gender Boundaries: Eunuchs in Authority

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:
Transgressing Gender Boundaries: Eunuchs in Authority

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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Most of the sources of the political and narrative history of Late Antiquity and early Byzantium treat eunuchs with hostility and suspicion. By the ninth through the twelfth centuries, as attitudes toward eunuchs changed, their gender construct had become more elaborate, and eunuchs were visible in many prominent roles. This chapter looks at some of the evidence for that shift, especially where eunuchs appear as protagonists in the military and political arenas. The roles of eunuchs such as Basil Lekapenos are well known. These powerful court eunuchs filled important roles as confidants and surrogate bearers of imperial power. The sources reveal a number of trusted court eunuchs who held important positions as generals and admirals, and who led major campaigns, acting as protagonists. Some were brilliant successes and others were dismal failures, but there is little to suggest that the ratio of success to failure was any different among generals who were whole men. Moreover, eunuchs continued to be given military and naval commands throughout the period.

Keywords: gender boundaries; protagonists; Basil Lekapenos; imperial power; court eunuchs; generals

Chapter.  6652 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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