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Eunuchs of the Roman Empire - 20 credits (HST029)

Eunuchs are generally associated with the east and eastern powers, such as the Chinese, Assyrian, Persian and Ottoman empires. This module, however, will examine the phenomenon of the eunuch in the context of the Roman empire, from the third century BC to the sixth century AD. During this period eunuchs emerged as a major element of the Roman imperial system, witnessed by the careers of several notorious powerful court eunuchs, such as Eutropius (the first and last eunuch consul) and Chrysaphius (who plotted to assassinate Attila the Hun). The module will also consider other aspects of the eunuch experience, such as religion (both pagan and Christian), slavery and sex. Roman reaction to eunuchs in the service of eastern powers (such as Ptolemaic Egypt) will be explored too, as will the existence of independent eunuchs, such as the sophist Favorinus. The module will also treat eunuchs in antiquity in general, and such issues as castration, the legal attitude towards eunuchs, and the literary depiction of eunuchs. Assessment is by an essay of 4,000 words.