Eunuchs at the Palace: Gendered Space and Confirmation of the Imperial Numen

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:
Eunuchs at the Palace: Gendered Space and Confirmation of the Imperial Numen

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This chapter explores a tentative model that may help to explain both the powerful role that eunuchs played at the Byzantine court and some of the limitations which were placed on their role in society. By the ninth century eunuchs controlled the most important functions in the imperial court and household, the reference point for most social and political life in Byzantium. By the Byzantine period, the “box” that was the Greek household controlled by women had become, in the case of the imperial family, the imperial palace under the control of eunuchs. The eunuchs, and especially those employed in the palace, were men gendered into a distinct, perhaps new, gender configuration that combined some of the attributes of both men and women. Eunuchs were also thought to have preternatural properties appropriate to individuals who had, because of their castration, concentrated their powers within their own bodies rather than dissipating them through sexuality. There were also clearly functional offices reserved to eunuchs. Unlike titles, which might simply be honorary, officeholders fulfilled appointed duties connected with their offices.

Keywords: gendered space; imperial numen; Byzantine court; eunuchs; society; imperial family

Chapter.  9399 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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