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Breaking Down Barriers: Eunuchs in Italy and North Africa, 400-625

Breaking Down Barriers: Eunuchs in Italy and North Africa, 400-625


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Breaking Down Barriers: Eunuchs in Italy and North Africa, 400-625

By Michael Stewart

Byzantine Culture in Translation, edited by Amelia Brown and Bronwen Neil (Brill, 2017)

Abstract: This paper considers how attitudes towards to imperial eunuchs as military leaders changed in parallel in both Greek and Latin texts from the 4th to 7th centuries, and the key role played by Justinian’s eunuch generals Solomon and Narses.

Introduction: In the second decade of the 7th century, Byzantine rule in Italy was in peril. The imperial government in Constantinople found itself in the midst of a final fight for survival with its long-time nemesis from the East, the Persian empire. Taking advantage of this distraction, in 615, parts of northern and southern Italy rebelled against their Byzantine overlords.

In Ravenna, a group of Lombards and native Italians murdered the Byzantine exarch and a number of impe-rial officials in Ravenna, while in Naples, a local strongman, John of Compsa, established himself as the city’s independent ruler. Though embroiled in the fight with Persia, in the spring of 616, the emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641) sent the eunuch chamberlain Eleutherius to exact revenge and restore order. In this task, the eunuch was largely successful.


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