Social Reproduction and Integration

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:
Social Reproduction and Integration

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This chapter analyzes the social reproduction and integration of eunuchs in Byzantine culture. One indicator of the changing status of eunuchs in Byzantium is violation of that aspect of their gender construct which assumed absence of a biological family. From the sixth century on, examples can be found of powerful eunuchs who maintained extensive connections with their own families. Phrased differently, established families sought to place sons in important offices open only to eunuchs, castrating some of their sons as part of an age-old strategy for familial advancement. The mechanism for the social reproduction of eunuchs as a gender is also clearly sketched in the story of St. Metrios. Indeed, there is an odd twist to the story of St. Metrios since, despite the persistence of formal legislation banning castration, God authorizes him to castrate the son whom God has miraculously bestowed upon him. Castration and life as a eunuch, which at one time had implied total separation from familial and societal background, had been legitimated by God. It had become yet another strategy for family promotion, a strategy that is a crucial part of the explanation of how the institution of eunuchism maintained itself in Byzantium over several centuries.

Keywords: social reproduction; biological family; St. Metrios; legislation; castration; family promotion

Chapter.  4770 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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