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Arch Hellen Med, 34(2), March-April 2017, 255-260


Castration in Byzantium

N. Stavrakakis
"Venizelio-Pananion" General Hospital, Heraklion, Crete, Greece

Eunuchs formed a populous social class in the Byzantine Empire, especially at the Imperial court, and castration was a procedure which was commonly carried out, although supposedly forbidden within Byzantine domains. The close contact that Eunuchs living in the Great Palace had with the Emperor made them powerful and politically influential. They were responsible for the education of the Emperor's successors, and were servants in the Imperial court in the positions known as parakoimomenos, protovestiarios and thesaurofylakas. They were admired for their exceptional abilities and had the opportunity of reaching the highest levels in the hierarchy and the military, and they could even become officers or patriarchs. Women of the Byzantine aristocracy had eunuchs as their doctors. Castration was a recognised penalty which was commonly used as a method of punishment for slaves and prisoners of war. It was also used on members of aristocratic families in which it eliminated any possible heirs who might have posed a threat to the throne, since castration made this an impossibility. Surgical castration by either removing or damaging the testicles is described by Paul of Aegina with clarity. He also emphasises his opposition to such procedures and reports how difficult it was for the doctors to disagree with the politicians about performing such operations. Writers of that period also describe the differentiation of eunuchs from the rest of the male population. The eunuchs were characterized by changes in their sexual desire, due to the lack of testosterone following the removal of the testicles, along with alterations in their body type, the colour of their skin and the growth of hair, weight gain and a unique vocal range that made them singing sensations at the imperial court and major churches.

Key words: Byzantine medicine, Castration, Eunuch.

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