Eunuchs in Antiquity & Beyond

Editor: Shaun Tougher

The Classical Press of Wales and Ducksworth, 2002

In antiquity, castration was practiced by herders on their animals, one male animal being able to impregnate many females and castration eliminating fighting among the male animals. When it was first applied to humans is unknown.

The first chapter of the book is the most general and speaks of eunuchs being castrated NOT "to prevent them from having sex with women, but rather to make certain the pregnancy of the harem woman resulted from the seed of the master rather than that of the servant or slave." Total castration, writes the author, Vern L. Bullough, "was unusual."

Female castration in antiquity is also mentioned by Bullough.

Writing of castration for punishment, Bullough mentions Pharaoh Merneptah of the XIXth dynasty, collecting 6359 uncircumcised penises following the defeat of the invading Libyan army. (p.6)

Writing of castration for religious purposes, Bullough speaks of Gnostics wishing to purge themselves of beast-like behavior. He writes too of Hindu sects associated with Vaishnavism giving religious justification for castration and eunuchism.

He ends his article mentioning that what was once accomplished with the knife can now be done with hormones.

Chapter 7 is devoted to the existence of castration in early Christianity.

Chapter 12, "Eunuch Power in Imperial China," by Shih-shan Henry Tsai, begins with a description of Confucians dominating the writing of history and promoting "the politics of sage-kings in the imperial system." Consequently, writes Henry Tsai, "Chinese historians rarely openly and persistently criticized the autocratic political system  and the tyranny generated by it. Instead they singled out the eunuchs as the scapegoats..."

The chapters of the book are:

1. Eunuchs in history and society, by Vern L. Bullough (University of Southern California)

2. Eunuchs and the royal harem in Achaemenid Persia, by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (Open University, U.K.)

3. Eunuchizing Agamemnon: Dlytemnestra, Adamemonom and maschalismos, by Ruth Bardel (Oxford)

4. Sacred Eunuchism in the cult of the Syrian goddess, by J.L Lightfoot (All Souls College, Oxford)

5. Looking for eunuchs: the galli  and Attis in Roman art, by Shelley Hales (Cardiff and Bristol Universities)

6. Eunuchs and gender transformation: Philo's exegesis of the Joseph narrative, by Ra'anan Abusch (Princeton University)

7. Eunuchs and early Christianity by Walter Stevenson (University of Richmond)

8. In or out? Origins of court eunuchs, by Shaun Taugher (Cardiff University, University of Wales)

9. 'Eunuchs of light.' Power, imperial ceremonial and positive representations of eunuchs in Byzantium (4th-12th centuries) by Georges Sidèris, (Collége de France, Paris)

10. Theophylact of Ochrid's In Defense of Eunuchs, by Margaret Mullett (Queen's University, Belfast)

11. Eunuchs in the later Byzantine Empire, c 1250-1400, by Niels Gaul (University of Bonn)

12. Eunuch power in imperial China, by Shih-shan Henry Tsai (University of Arkansas)

13. The other castrati, by (Richard Witt (Foundation of the Hellenic World, Athens)