Tag Archives: gender

A Short Bibliography For The Study Of Eunuchs, Marginality & Gender in The Pre-Modern World

A number of people asked me to expand on my Forbes column from last week, which addressed the long history of eunuchs around the world and in Game of Thrones. This is a short reading list focused on scholarship in English for those wishing to begin to read about the subject. I am neither an expert on eunuchs nor a global historian of modern history. As you will see below, my expertise is firmly in Greco-Roman and early Byzantine history–so please forgive my ignorance of modern eunuchism. If you wish to add to the bibliography (and feel free to do this), please simply submit a comment with a new citation. It will be added and you will be credited for your contribution. Many of these resources are admittedly not open-access materials (my apologies), but I wanted to note just a few of the major works that can be either checked out from the library or accessed through academic publication databases.


The monk Sabas instructs the emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates. Bibliothèque National de France MS Coislin 79, f. 2bis-r (ca. 1078-1081).

Ancient Greco-Roman and Near Eastern Eunuchs: 

Burke, Sean D. 2009. “Reading the Ethiopian Eunuch as a Eunuch: Queering the Book of Acts.” Dissertation. Graduate Theological Union.

_____2013.Queering the Ethiopian Eunuch: Strategies of Ambiguity in Acts. Augsburg Fortress Publishers.

Guyot, Peter (Hildesheim), “Eunuchs”, in: Brill’s New Pauly, Antiquity volumes edited by: Hubert Cancik and , Helmuth Schneider. Consulted online on 22 August 2017

Devecka, Martin. “The Traffic in Glands.” The Journal of Roman Studies 103 (2013): 88-95.

Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd (trans.) 2010. Ctesias’ History of Persia : tales of the Orient Routledge.

Long, Jacqueline. 1996. Claudian’s In Eutropium, or, How, when, and why to slander a eunuch. University of North Carolina [Contributed by Jeroen Wijnendaele] 

Matthews, Lydia. “XANTHUS OF LYDIA AND THE INVENTION OF FEMALE EUNUCHS.” The Classical Quarterly 65, no. 2 (2015): 489–99.

Reusch,Kathryn. 2013. “That which was missing”: the archaeology of castration.” DPhil. University of Oxford. [Contributed by Adele Curness]

Tougher, Shaun and Ra’anan Abusch (ed.) 2002. Eunuchs in Antiquity and Beyond. Duckworth. 

Uroš, Matić. “Gender in Ancient Egypt: Norms, Ambiguities, and Sensualities.” Near Eastern Archaeology 79, no. 3 (2016): 174-83.

Late Antique and Byzantine Eunuchs: 

Greatrex, Geoffrey, and Jonathan Bardill. “Antiochus the “Praepositus”: A Persian Eunuch at the Court of Theodosius II.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 50 (1996): 171-97.

Kuefler, Mathew. 2001. The Manly Eunuch: Masculinity, gender ambiguity, and Christian ideology in late antiquityUniversity of Chicago [Contributed by Robin Whelan]

Neil, Bronwen, and Lynda Garland. 2016. Questions of gender in Byzantine society. London: Routledge.

Ringrose, Kathryn M. 2007. The Perfect Servant: Eunuchs and the Social Construction of Gender in Byzantium. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Tougher, Shaun. 2010. The Eunuch in Byzantine History and Society. Routledge.

De Wet, Christopher Len. 2015. Preaching Bondage: John Chrysostom and the Discourse of Slavery in Early Christianity. UC. 256-67.

Islamic Eunuchs

Ayalon, David. 1999. Eunuchs, caliphs and sultans : a study in power relationshipsHebrew University. [Contributed by Kameliya Atanasova] 

Marmon, Shaun Elizabeth. 1995. Eunuchs and sacred boundaries in Islamic society. Oxford. [Contributed by Kameliya Atanasova] 

Ottoman Use of African Eunuchs

Junne, George H. 2016. The black eunuchs of the Ottoman Empire: networks of power in the court of the sultan

Ehud, R. 1984. “The Imperial Eunuchs of Istanbul: From Africa to the Heart of Islam,” Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 20, No. 3: 379-390.

Chinese Eunuchs: 

Tsai, Shih-shan Henry. 1996. The Eunuchs in the Ming dynasty. New York: State University of New York.

Indian and Pakistani Eunuchs: 

Jaffrey, Zia. 1996. The Invisibles : a tale of the eunuchs of India.

Khan, Shahnaz. 2016. “What is in a Name? Khwaja Sara, Hijra and Eunuchs in Pakistan,” Indian Journal of Gender Studies 23.2. 218-242.


“Eunuch,” In Our Time. BBC Radio 4, February 26, 2015. 


Höfert, Almut et al. 2018. Celibate and Childless Men in Power: Ruling Eunuchs and Bishops in the Pre-Modern World. Routledge. [Contributed by Peter Kruschwitz]

These resources are just a start point for addressing the key issues of eunuchs, gender, and marginality. I invite you to keep the citations and conversation going in the comments section or on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 7.10.15 AM.png

Students and instructors standing around ancient relief sculpture of a pair of eunuchs in the Oriental Institute’s Assyrian room (1943, Life Magazine). 

Other Syllabi And Bibliographies Addressing Marginality And Inclusion: 

For many years now, I have taught a course on marginal & outcast peoples in the ancient and modern world [HONR 1670_Outcast Syllabus] that stemmed from my book on the construction of occupational disrepute in Roman antiquity. I am delighted to see my colleagues in medieval and early modern studies taking the topic to new (and exceptional) levels. This following the events at the Leeds Medieval Congress this summer (2017) and the rise in white nationalist marches, attacks, and demonstrations this year. Of particular note is Jonathan Hsy’s Twitter thread on #Inclusive Syllabus, which is explained below. I would also direct you to Dorothy Kim’s blog, “In the Middle,” and the “Medieval People of Color” tumblr. You can even contribute to the crowd-sourced bibliography on race and medieval studies begun by professors Jonathan Hsy and Julie Orlemanski. 

The Decline and Fall of the All-Male Panel: Compiling a List of Female Ancient Historians

It was my pleasure to attend the annual meeting of the SCS-AIA in San Francisco from January 6-10. I just got back to Iowa City last night, and wanted to write while the thoughts about the conference were still fresh in my mind. First, I want to say that the SCS-AIA always serves as an annual pep talk to get attendees energized for the year ahead. I heard exceptional papers ranging in subject from the Greek economy to the archaeology of weights and measures, and loved being reminded of the myriad digital, technological, and methodological innovations afoot in the field of ancient history. Additionally, there were more Late Antiquity (200-800 CE) panels and papers than I have ever seen before. This shows real progress towards better incorporating late antique history and patristic studies into the field of Classics.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 11.55.30 AM.png

All male panels have quite the, uh, storied history. (7th c. CE ivory of Mark and his successors, now at the Louvre. Image via Wikimedia)

Those were the positives; however, there were also some negatives. On Thursday, I attended a meeting wherein I was told by a senior scholar that affirmative action and the target hiring of women for specific positions was no longer relevant or even necessary, because racism and misogyny were now quite rare in academia (Good to know! I disagree completely!). I stayed after the meeting to debate this point with said scholar further (35 minutes), but was quite upset even to have to defend myself. I am proud to say that his is the minority view at AIA-SCS, from what I have seen, but it was a reminder that such individuals still exist and still have influence.


An all-male (and very white) panel in October of 2015 judges women for wearing leggings on Fox News. Story and Picture HERE.

What was a bit more troubling, was to find that there were a number of all male panels on the program for the conference. Now, some of these were panels put together by blind review of abstracts–i.e., there was no knowledge of the gender of the person ahead of time–while others were organized panels where presenters had been asked ahead of time. Although their numbers have been decreasing for many years, the all male panel is an animal that still has not been made extinct, either in the field of ancient history or in many others. The New York Times has pointed out its existence in media, news, and politics, but it lives on in academia as well. In fact, one of the most popular webpages on this topic is the hilarious “Congrats, You Have an All Male Panel!” TUMBLR, which lays out its aims thusly: “Documenting all male panels, seminars, events, and various other things featuring all male experts.” Meeting participants are asked to send in pictures of their all male panels to the TUMBLR, where it will be stamped with a picture of David Hasselhoff–a “Hoffsome” stamp.


When I was asked to give a paper for a sick  (male) friend at an ancient military panel on Saturday, I was exasperated to find that it too was a classic”manel”. The organizer and the panel consisted of kind, good scholars, but I felt like the whispers and the secret complaints of female academics usually only heard on Facebook or over early evening martinis at the conference hotel bar needed to be voiced.

Around 25 people populated the room, with 3-4 women (depending on the paper) in the audience and, well, 21 men. When it was my turn, I asked to speak to the ladies (“Ladies, can we talk?”) in the room and point blank told them that they should take the initiative and introduce themselves to the men in the room after the panel (“Tell them what you do! Ask them if there is a chance you can work together in the future!”). To the credit of the men in attendance, there was only one audible sigh (with visible eye roll for full effect), while everyone else just nodded and looked uncomfortable about my harpooning the elephant in the room. No matter! The paper went off well, and then we all had a good talk afterwards. I was relieved, but my carefully picked power dress had the biggest underarm sweat stains I can remember.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 1.03.45 PM

There are a number of reasons why these all male panels occur quite frequently in the field of Ancient History. One thing to remember is that the blame is not always on the shoulders of the old-boy network.

1. Ancient history has had a problem with attracting women–particularly in military, economic, and political history–for a long time. By my count, for every 7 men or so in these ancient subfields, there is 1 female ancient historian. This is better than it was in the 1970s, but still not good. One time, at a meeting of the AAH (Association of Ancient Historians) at Chapel Hill, I ran into a legendary female ancient historian in the bathroom. While the men’s line was out the door, it was just she and I in the rather large bathroom. She looked at me and said, “At least there is one plus to being a woman in this field: You never have to wait in line for the toilet!” Quite right. Simply put? We need more women to actively choose to work on Roman coinage, battlefield logistics, or late antique Visigothic law! If women don’t go into these fields, they can’t participate in the panels and the participant pool will remain largely male.

2. People pick their friends for panels rather than searching out others they may not know. Look, when you organize a conference, a panel, or a colloquium, you often go to the people you trust the most: your friends and the people whom you or your advisor has worked with before. I have done this. You have done this. We have all done this. The important thing to see is that having women visible on academic panels and on executive committees will encourage more women to follow suit and to get involved. Make an effort to seek out a female graduate student or professor rather than defaulting to the normal network. Men: Challenge yourself to incorporate women. Women: Challenge yourself to introduce yourselves to men in positions of power. I hate saying “lean-in”, but damn it: Lean In.

3. Female historians are seen as people who do “soft” history: The only time I usually see an all-female panel in Ancient History is when it is on the topic of “Women in Antiquity” or perhaps”Gender and Sex in the Ancient World.” Those are important topics, but that is not all we do. I know some badass women (e.g., Constantina Katsari) who can break down Roman economic history with the best of them. Also remember: All female panels can be just as bad as an all-male panel.

Early this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email in my inbox. The convener of the aforementioned military panel wrote to ask if I could introduce him to any women who specialized in ancient military history. I thought, “Um, yeah. Absolutely, dude.” I sent him a few names, but I do think there should be a better way to do this than just word of mouth. What if the AAH, the AHA, the SCS, ASGLE and the AIA all had a list of women willing to serve on panels, committees, or subgroups?

I have begun to compile a list of women in ancient history and invite you to add names to the list. It is an editable Google doc available here. Please contribute and comment. Let’s get this conversation started and make sure that next year we can make even more progress towards gender inclusion in Ancient History.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 12.44.22 PM.png

My academic family with our supportive ancient history advisor, Richard Talbert (Left, in his most dapper Tarheel blue).